Less by Andrew Sean Greer (2017)

 

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I was not familiar with this author or this book until a friend mentioned its eloquence and humor. Less is the story of a middle aged (is 50 middle aged?) author struggling to accept that his most recent book has been rejected by his publisher—and his boyfriend of nine years is marrying someone else.  With few prospects vying for his attention, he decides to accept a bunch of second rate offers: speaker, guest teacher, chairman of a literary event, discussion panelist, researcher. Basically he’s doing all those things free lance writers and second rate authors must do to piece together a living. They want to throw all those invitations in the trash, but when times are lean, the invitations come in handy. And when you’re looking for a way to avoid your ex-boyfriend’s wedding celebration, like Arthur Less is, piecing together these obscure opportunities lands a round-the-world trip at someone else’s expense. And so Arthur heads off: New York, Mexico, Italy, Germany, Paris, Morocco, Japan.  Each destination brings hilarious stories, raucous one-nighters in the gay community, and ultimately, self-discovery. Because he spent his early years in a long-term relationship with a brilliant (and much older) poet, Less has always felt, well…“less.” And when that relationship unraveled–long before his most recent nine year one–he spent much of his adult years figuring himself out. As a writer, Less is “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.”  And so, we see his dilemma.

But Less is resilient, witty, and kind. We know he will find his way in this literary world filled with huge egos.  Yet, his story illuminates the insecurity all writers face as they wait for a ‘yay’ or ‘nay’ from their publishers, all the while trying to navigate a cut-throat world.

This is a love story, a gay story, a late in life coming-of-age story.  Greer has created a character that we want to hug, that we want to laugh with, and that we want to cheer on.  We empathize with his plight, but we know he’ll somehow land on his feet. Less is comedy, philosophy, psychology, and romance. It’s a wonderful journey across the world with Arthus Less.

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