New York, NY: Lee Boudreaux Books/Little, Brown, 2017. 272 pages. $26.00.
How can you avoid the pain of grief ? For Arthur Less, the supporter of Andrew Sean Greer ’ s latest fresh, Less, the answer is clear : run away. This funny and engaging picaresque novel is a deviation for Greer, who is best known for his imaginative historical fiction, like The Confessions of Max Tivoli and The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells. Greer is a consummate writer, and he brings along all his writerly chops from his past five books. Less teases readers with a cryptic, impossibly all-knowing narrator and an disingenuously structured plot .
The novel opens with Arthur Less, a life-weary Eeyore staring down the bad 5-0 and palpate like the entirely cheery man to have always grown old. then Freddy, his much younger, part-time fan of the past nine years—the one Less keeps warning not to become excessively attach to him—tells Less he ’ mho met person else. When the marry invitation arrives, Less, a midlist novelist on the refuse, opens his desk drawer and fishes his hand through a sea of average professional invitations. If he accepts them all he could cobble together a trip around the worldly concern and be out of town for the marry and his fear fiftieth birthday, besides. Less thinks, “ What could possibly go faulty ? ”
therefore begins Greer ’ s hilarious ode to travel. From Less ’ second “ Thumbelina bottle of crimson wine ” to the “ prison blanket, prison pillow ” to which he clings, to his years-long conflict to be refunded his VAT, Less is every person who wants to see the world but not deal with the struggle to get there. He ’ south besides every person who ’ sulfur armored himself against grief by becoming a commitment-phobe :
Arthur Less has, for the past decade and a half, remained a knight bachelor. This came after a farseeing period of survive with the older poet Robert Brownburn, a burrow of love he entered at twenty-one and exited, blinking in the sunlight, in his thirties. Where was he ? somewhere in there he lost the foremost phase of young person, like the inaugural phase of a rocket ; it had fallen, depleted, behind him. And hera was the second. And survive. He swore he would not give it to anyone ; he would enjoy it. He would enjoy it alone. But : how to live alone and even not be alone ?
His strategy for the past fifteen years has been to “ abdicate love completely. ” He can have lovers, but he will not grow close. Hence his treatment of Freddy. And his impulse to flee.
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As a picaresque novel, Less is satirical and episodic, and it follows the protagonist as he muddles through this trip. The structure of the fresh mirrors Less ’ s round-the-world stumble. Each chapter reveals a new state, new obstacles, and a new cast of characters. Less drags along his aroused baggage from put to space, and any random consequence can trigger a memory from his past with Robert or Freddy or from his childhood ; he is never alone. In hypothesis, all this backstory could slow down the plot, but as Less enters modern situations, the memories of his past make a certain consistency—for him and the reader—the aroused equivalent of eating at McDonald ’ s on the Champs-Élysées .
Less doesn ’ deoxythymidine monophosphate mean for this to be a soul-searching trip—this is no fabricated Eat, Pray, Love —but the journey becomes an accidental pursuit for the mean of love in his liveliness. At a party in Paris, Less feels like the only one fifty-year-old with no prospects in sight, like a pull the leg of with his expression pressed against the glass. While sitting at a browning automatic rifle in Morocco on the eve of his birthday, Less ’ s female friend, besides recently dumped, ponders whether beloved is “ walking the bally dog so the other one can sleep in ” or if “ it ’ s this earth-shattering thing. .. . Something I ’ ve never felt. Have you ? ” Less can ’ t answer. She continues, “ What if one day you meet person, Arthur, and it feels like it could never be anyone else. .. . Is it like that with this Freddy ? ” He merely manages to stammer. much later while talking to Robert on the call, he remembers his former collaborator ’ second deep longing for him and wonders if he ’ ll always be loved that way again. Less ultimately asks the question he ’ second been trying to evade : “ Am I excessively erstwhile to meet person ? ” This is where the novel actually shines, in the surprising moments of tenderness, when Less ’ randomness armor is punctured and he ’ second forced to face his hurt inside .
throughout, there ’ s a whiff of metafiction in this novel about a novelist writing a book about a gay man at midlife, a koran that Less believes will be “ the one ” to propel him out of the midlist, finally. Greer satirizes a lot of the writing life, from the agent who tells Less his novel is “ excessively pensive. Too affecting, ” to a ceremony for an obscure award, to a writing conference, to discuss not Less ’ s own books but the work of his long-ago lover, the ace poet Robert Brownburn. Less lugs his novel along on his round-the-world trip in the hope that a new placement will bring a fresh perspective. thankfully, Greer reaches beyond sarcasm to give sincere glimpses into the quality ’ randomness writing process. There are a few scattered spots ( I wish there were more ) where Greer describes the inner act of writing and the influence of a creative take care. Though short, they ’ re some of the best representations of the writing march I ’ ve understand.
Less is dedicated to Daniel Handler ( a.k.a. Lemony Snicket ) and while the book is intended to be amusing, at times it feels like a middle-aged man ’ s A Series of Unfortunate Events. His events aren ’ triiodothyronine catastrophes—there ’ s no end, no cancer—and sometimes the hotheaded mishaps seesaw close to farce. For exercise, when Less locks himself out of his fourth floor apartment, he leaps across from the outside hallway to his kitchen window, dangling from the sill until he manages to pull himself in. By the irregular half of the bible, the accumulative effect of all the absurd obstacles begins to slow down the deeper plot—his quest for the entail of love in his animation. But if readers push through, the report picks up and the ending is wholly comforting as it circles about and brings Less home. ultimately, it ’ s the compassion that Greer shows his characters, particularly Less and Freddy, that cause this novel to rise above being merely an enjoyable read or a series of amusing events. Less is touching and true with catch-you-by-surprise moments of affection, and, by travel ’ south end, Arthur Less and readers are changed and exultant .
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Patti Jazanoski ’ mho writing has appeared in Cimarron Review, Ploughshares web log, The Rumpus, Confrontation, the San Francisco Chronicle, and elsewhere. Patti earned an MFA in Fiction from Bennington College, and is working on a collection of shortstop stories and a novel .