by Andrew Sean Greer

Winner of the 2018 Pulitzer Prize in fiction. To avoid an ex-boyfriend's wedding, a failed novelist attends literary events around the world.

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    • “Strange to be almost fifty, no? I feel like I just understood how to be young.”Andrew Greer is a gifted writer and a skilled storyteller. I started reading this book with a good deal of cynical lip-curling over the precious fumbling of its title character, Arthur Less. My radar was attuned to every little bit of self-conscious “literariness,” that affectation of language through which an author separates him or herself from the herd of other writers. By the last page of the book, however, I was in tears. Somehow, Andrew Sean Greer’s feckless, nearly-fifty, aging-twink author protagonist began, against the odds, to resonate with me.I am fifteen years older than Andrew Greer, and a decade older than the fictional Arthur Less. Why does this matter? Because age is not just a number: age is your place in history, your worldview, your experience. As a sixty-something gay man, with a husband of forty-two years, the experience of my life gives me a point of view, for good or for ill. I have opinions, especially about other gay men, and particularly about gay men in the public spotlight.And there, you see, is part of the point. “Less” is a gay book by a gay author that won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2018. This, in the same year that a gay journalist, Ronan Farrow (age 30), won a Pulitzer for his work. This is news. This matters, especially to a gay man of my generation for whom this all feels a bit miraculous, especially given the bizarro-world of our national political scene at the moment.Arthur Less is a writer, a novelist. He is approaching his fiftieth birthday, and has behind him two decade-long romances that both ended badly. Did they end badly because Less was an idiot? Possibly. When faced with the impending marriage of his second ex-boyfriend, Less does the only thing he can imagine to save himself: he flees. Accepting a half-dozen heretofore ignored invitations from various global destinations, he sets off, still fumbling and irritating, on a trip around the world that will help him avoid the wedding and his fiftieth birthday.Along the way we get most of Arthur’s life. We meet the “young Arthur Less,” pretty and feckless, talent untapped, as he bumbles into his first relationship. We follow him into early middle age, when one relationship is exchanged for another. At first, it’s not clear how important these two relationships are; but with time, it becomes clear that not only were they important, they were everything.It’s a little bit as if Arthur has been going through life not quite paying attention. He is often startled, often confused, often hurt. He is not hugely promiscuous, but he is not not promiscuous either. Arthur doesn’t seem to consider the potential significance of fidelity or monogamy. On the other hand, he’s not thinking about heteronormativity either. He doesn’t seem to give much thought to his romantic life, but just sort of takes it as it comes. It’s as if he can’t quite focus—on his writing career, on his emotional life, on the world around him.At one point, in yet another vaguely surreal moment on his world tour, Arthur is accused of being a “bad gay” by another gay author. He is told by that author (who is presented as supercilious and pretentious), that “It is our duty to show something beautiful from our world. The gay world. But in your books, you make the characters suffer without reward.”That moment struck me, because this very book, the book that won Greer his Pulitzer, is the first book by this gay author that includes the experience of a gay man; that includes any gay character, as far as I can tell. Greer is an author who, while his being gay is not a secret, never makes being gay a part of his public persona—at least in what I found. He is out, he has a husband, but I had to dig to find it. His other books, which include at least two best sellers, are devoid of any gay content. This book has, for the first time, made him a gay author. And even here, one of the reasons for this book’s success is that it is “A gay guy novel that even a non-gay guy can appreciate.” (Tony’s Book World)For a gay man of my generation and from my vantage point, this rankles. As a voracious reader, who gathered a big library of contemporary gay literature in the 1970s and 80s, I am leery of gay men who, in this day and age, don’t put gay content in their books. I know this is grossly unfair, because the prejudice in the publishing world (as in Hollywood and in virtually all the arts) is still very much present, no matter what anyone tells you. The world is better than when I was born, but it is not entirely good, not by a long shot, in the way it approaches gay content and treats gay artists.So, Greer’s first gay book, a book which surely has resonance with the artist’s own life (made doubly so by Arthur Less’s revision of his own latest unwanted novel in the course of this novel) wins him the brass ring, the Oscar of novelists. Is this ironic? Is this a message?“Boredom is the only real tragedy for a writer; everything else is material.”In the end, this book got five stars from me because it honored both the author’s experience as a gay man, and my experience as a survivor of gay life in a straight world. I expect no less from gay authors. None of the gay authors I read routinely will ever win a Pulitzer prize, and I’m fine with that. I’m glad that I ended up loving “Less,” because it is an important moment in the history of gay fiction. I hope the author cares about this as much as I do.
    • Arthur Less is hilariously well-named. In the opening salvo, he is waiting to be escorted to a literary event, sitting in a hotel lobby, while a woman he is meant to meet is circling the room looking for a woman, mistakenly thinking the author of the book she's read cannot be a man. On the eve of Arthur's fiftieth birthday, his partner of almost ten years has announced his upcoming nuptials, and in order to avoid this nightmare, Arthur has cobbled together a trip around the world accepting an odd congregation of invitations to host, attend, and teach various literary events. With each stop, he goes into his past, revealing more and more about himself and his history. Each experience generates memory, both poignant and absurd. Greer has a fine sense of character and irony, and this surpasses other books I've read by him.
    • What a delightful surprise this book was. I really just downloaded this on impulse while drunk-browsing Amazon (not really an activity I recommend, what with one-click buying; also, I bought concurrently the Worst Book Ever, so this method of book selection is not dependable). This book is not my genre; I am a 47-year-old homeschooling mom, not chic or worldly by any measure and I might know three gay people - five if you count those closeted cousins everyone starts whispering about at Christmas dinners as they pass into their forties still single. Anyway - I can’t really imagine myself raving to my friends that they simply must read this delightful book about a gay man gone slightly to seed, never really having succeeded in the writing world. But it simply must have five stars.The craftsmanship of this novel is superb. In this aspect, the best book I have read this year. The author, Greer, turns a phrase like an old, Bavarian clocksmith tools a beautiful, yet functional, work of art. It is majestic. And Greer hid that Easter Egg in the chapter in Paris - an old house all covered in vines - and I laughed my ass off. I wonder how many other references there were that blew over my head; I imagine that can’t have been the only ingenius treasure. It was excellent.I’m close to the age of the protagonist, Arthur Less (also a magnificent use of words, by the way - less of an author) and his melancholy and insecurities ring true for me every moment. Too young for this love, too old for that; obscure, inadequate, never the headliner, always the warm-up act; I understood Less all too well. He is me, which is pretty darn surprising as I said, because my life is so differently framed from his. Who can believe this ordinary middle-aged woman with three kids can relate so resonantly to a middle-aged gay, unattached writer? Believe it, though; I am so much Less, too.
    • The least attractive part of "Less" is the main character, Less himself. He's a shlump. Unappealing and frankly uninteresting. Beyond that, the writing is show-offy, making you conscious of the author's choice of words and structure. To be fair, I did not finish the book. I got about 1/3rd of the way through and just didn't care what happened in the rest of the book.
    • After I started reading Less I immediately thought “So, why did this win the Pulitzer?” Then, about half way through, I began to understand. By the time we get to Morocco with Arthur Less, I was mentally comparing Less to Lolita, though the characters are nothing alike. While you hate the protagonist Humbert in Lolita, there is no denying the power of the novel. And where you will love the protagonist Arthur Less, it is the writing that shines here, not the sweep of the story or the depth of the characters. Is there a literary genre called Profound Humorous Romps? That’s where this book belongs. This is not a “gay” book, but Arthur is gay. This is not a story about middle age, but Arthur is confronting his own aging. This is a story about how humans are constantly swimming upstream against life. This is a story about how humans are old or young or bald or sad or beautiful or boring and sometimes we are more, but sometimes we are…(wait for it)…Less. I just hope Arthur turns sixty really soon, and Andrew Greer brings us a new book so we can ride shotgun again with Less.