Like most of America (and basically all of the world), Andrew Sean Greer’s Less flew under the radar on Headlong Into Harm Press’ books-to-read list, until it landed the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in April. To be honest, a huge stack of unread novels sat between it and us for a while, and we just recently wrapped up reading it.
Now we just have to ask, “What took us so long?”
Less is exactly the kind of book we wish we could have published. Even factor in the Pulitzer, the wild sales and Greer’s much-deserved success, it’s the kind of tome that represents everything great about contemporary writing. It’s as heartfelt as anything you’ll read this year, without any of that cloying sentimentality that kills a good book. It’s laugh-out-loud funny, without ever resorting to one-liners or meanness. Best of all, Greer knows how to turn a phrase. It’s a joy to read.
On its surface, the story’s simple. Arthur Less is a modestly successful/unsuccessful author who recently broke up with his longtime boyfriend, only to learn that said boyfriend is scheduled to get married in a few months. His marriage is but a few weeks after Less’ fiftieth birthday, and, in what can reasonably only be described as a tantrum of self-absorption, self-pity and ineffectual denial, Less decides to take every half-baked opportunity to speak, teach, visit and write presented to him in the past months. Hoping his psychological sleight-of-hand distracts him from his lover’s nuptials and encroaching middle age, he packs his favorite bright blue suit, exercise rubber bands and his in-the-works manuscript and heads out for a round-the-world journey. Hilarity ensues.
But there’s a lot of heart that saves this novel. Like early Nick Hornby but with sharper literary chops and less preoccupation with pop culture, Greer mines the literary scene and gay culture for a book that’s archly funny and surprisingly easy to connect with, especially for a Pulitzer prize novel