BOOK Review ‘Less’

Author: Andrew Sean Greer
Publisher: Lee Boudreaux/Little Brown and Company

Less is the 2018 Pulitzer Prize winning satirical novel story about Arthur Less, a prim, slim, balding author who favours blue suits and is about to turn 50.

“Arthur Less is the first homosexual to ever grow old”.
Less is described in the story as “a minor author whose greatest fame was a youthful association with the Russian River School of writers and artists, an author too old to be fresh and too young to be rediscovered, one who never sits next to anyone on a plane who has heard of his books”.
We first meet Less in New York where he has to chair an event for another writer – a wildly successful and highly overrated science fiction writer.
This is followed by more events in which his own work is overlooked in favour others or where he is subjected to
In short, the artificial literary industry has eaten Less alive.
By the time Less is in his forties he has learned to bear mediocre reviews of his own work, but not heartache.
“How can so many things become a bore by middle age – philosophy, radicalism, and other fast foods – but heartbreak keeps its sting?”.
Less is involved in a casual relationship with Freddy, the son of a rival writer.
During the years Less and Freddy both have other lovers, but time and time again, Less returned to dreamy, simple, lusty, bookish, harmless, youthful Freddy.
It lasts for nine years, until Freddy announces another man he is seeing wants to be monogamous.
Freddy hints to Less that they could turn their casual relationship into something more serious but Less fears the risk of a deeper commitment, instead giving Freddy a good-bye kiss.
A few months later Less gets a wedding invitation to attend Freddy’s wedding.
As a former lover, Less feels that if he were to attend he would be pitied, but if he stays at home he will be pitied even more.
Serendipitously, Less is invited to teach at a little known university in Berlin – an escape route.
And there are others. An invitation for a conference, a writing retreat, a travel article.
Less travels from his home in California to New York to Mexico City to Turin to Berlin onto Morocco (where he will turn 50) to India and finally to Japan.
There are many twists and turns along the way, and many idle affairs, but none that allow him to forget about Freddy.
At the final Indian writing retreat, he plans to improve his rejected novel but, as it draws out his past, it is his unfinished love for Freddy that finally emerges.
I really loved this book.
Less is endearing – “a white middle-aged American man walking around with his white middle-aged American sorrows … it’s a little hard to feel sorry for a guy like that.”
But by the end of the story we do.
More generally, the writing is raw and inspired and the story is funny and poignant.
In one scene, there is a discussion about whether meeting the love of your life is like being struck by lightning or whether, “It’s walking the f***ing dog so that the other one can sleep in, doing the taxes, it’s cleaning the bathroom without hard feelings, it’s having an ally in life – it’s not fire, it’s not lightning”.
And when contemplating aging: “Strange to be almost fifty, no? I feel like I just understood how to be young. Yes! It’s like the last day in a foreign country. You finally figure out where to get coffee, and drinks and have a good steak. And then you have to leave. And you won’t ever be back.”
Less is a New York Times best seller, won the Northern California Book Award, and was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Fiction.
In May 2019, Less won the Australian Book Industry Award for International Book of the Year, awarded by the Australian Publishers Association.
I can see why.

Kim Reardon
The Reluctant Book Critic