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Less by Andrew Sean Greer

Less (2017)

by Andrew Sean Greer

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9606213,394 (3.73)80
  1. 10
    A Ladder to the Sky: A Novel by John Boyne (hairball)
    hairball: I read these a few weeks—maybe a month—apart. This is the really obvious pairing.

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Showing 1-5 of 61 (next | show all)
I'm not gay but I've been a dancer in New York City for 20 years. This is one of the most realistic and fully flushed out book containing gay characters that I've read. Less does a wonderful job of not falling into cleche traps. It was an enjoyable story and very well written, however it didn't quite resonate for me. I think it would for the right reader. ( )
  ZephyrusW | Jan 18, 2019 |
Like any curious writer, I occasionally read the award-winning books of the Pulitzer and Booker variety. I also watch award-winning movies (Oscars, Golden Globes, etc.) and listen to award-winning albums (Grammys, Pulitzer, et al.). I like to see what all the hub-bub is about and judge for myself. I really wanted to love Less by Andrew Sean Greer. It’s classified as humorous (awesome) literary (even better) fiction. That’s my wheelhouse (disclaimer: I also write humorous literary fiction). Unfortunately, I didn’t love it. Sad, I know.

Published book blurb for Less: Who says you can't run away from your problems? You are a failed novelist about to turn fifty. A wedding invitation arrives in the mail: your boyfriend of the past nine years is engaged to someone else. You can't say yes--it would be too awkward--and you can't say no--it would look like defeat. On your desk are a series of invitations to half-baked literary events around the world. How do you arrange to skip town? You accept them all.

This is the setup to how Arthur Less avoids suffering and humiliation. He escapes. And this is what Greer uses to setup a series of comedic situations to drop author Arthur Less into. Some are amusing. Arthur believes he’s fluent in German (he’s not) while staying in Germany. His translated books are brilliant overseas (they’re not. Maybe artfully translated). Comedic (?) foibles unfold. Arthur flies around the world, takes pills, hops in the sack(s) with various assistants and travel companions. He ruminates about past transgressions. Or does he since the book is narrated by someone else? This someone’s identity is the novel’s big reveal. Don’t worry; I won’t spoil it.

I found the character of Less to be annoying and unlikeable. I know there are readers that are attracted to this type of hot-mess, Peter Pan-esque, worried about aging / too vain for their own good character. I guess I'm not one of them. The narrator is fascinated with Arthur Less, infatuated even, the same way a pet owner is in love with their scrappy dog that pees on the rug while they claim it to be the cutest dog in the world. It’s not; it’s a dog that pees on the rug.

There is an airy, whimsical quality to Greer’s writing. It goes down like a fresh-baked croissant does with an espresso while sitting on the patio of a French bistro. But there is also a shallowness that is cloying. It’s lack of plot is unfortunate. And I kept thinking: What is so great about Arthur Less? More so, what is so great about Less? There is no accounting for the taste of the Pulitzer judges, I guess.

In the book, there is a passage where Arthur’s old flame, Robert, actually wins the Pulitzer Prize (just like Andrew Sean Greer did?!), then a mutual friend of theirs explains:

“Prizes aren’t love. Because people who never met you can’t love you. The slots for winners are already set, from here until Judgment Day. They know the kind of poet who’s going to win, and if you happen to fit the slot, then bully for you! It’s like fitting a hand-me-down suit. It’s luck, not love. Not that it isn’t nice to have luck... "

I guess this novel had the luck this time. It must have been awkward for Greer to receive the Pulitzer after writing such a passage. Right? Probably not. He won the prize anyway. Bully for him. ( )
  scott_semegran | Jan 18, 2019 |
If someone ever decided to rework It’s a Wonderful Life to omit the angels, update the references, and switch out Jimmy Stewart et. al. in place of gay cast, LESS is probably pretty close to what they’d produce. Our protagonist, Arthur Less, is convinced he hasn’t made much of a dent in the world. Sure, he helped nurture a lover who later became a world-reknowned writer and genius; sure, he wrote a book himself that received some good notices; sure, he’s seen a bit of the world – but mostly he’s haunted by all his perceived failures: all the things he hasn’t done, all the places he hasn’t been, all the feats he hasn’t achieved. As far as he can see, he's a timid, anxious, 50yr old gay man who messed up his best chance at love and now has nothing to look forward to but losing his looks and awkward invitations from sympathetic friends ... which, by the way, happens to be the plot of his latest book, which even his usually supportive book publisher can't get excited about, and who can blame them?

Except that not all is as it seems, because when – in true Frank Capra style – our protagonist has an opportunity to view his life from an entirely new perspective (how others see him), he comes to realize that he’s actually had a pretty terrific life and, moreover, that the best may still be before him.

Any retelling of It’s a Wonderful Life is bound to be engaging, but Greer doubles down by infusing Arthur’s tale with a wit that’s perhaps best described as “Don Quixote meets Jeeves the Butler.”* When Arthur isn’t futilely dashing after elusive windmills (an especially funny chapter in which he endeavors to tour the great sites of Mexico City comes to mind), he inevitably finds himself entangled in some naively ridiculous situation or scheme: trust me, never has the German language been abused to such hilarious effect! (*And just to make sure that his readers - including any potential Pulitzer Prize judges - don't miss this, Greer seeds the book with a suspiciously hefty number of Charlie Chaplin references.)

Other institutions that Greer pinions along the way include academic conferences, literary fads, writing communes, and travel in general. Hopefully, any readers inclined to feel a little snarky upon discovering they’ve placed too much trust in an unreliable narrator will accept the tale’s picaresque humor as a more-than-adequate apology.

Feel free to take this at face value: Less is a witty and engaging read. Or you can approach it as an invitation to try viewing yourself through the perspectives of others and see if the exercise causes you to change how you see yourself. Either way, I think you’ll consider the time well spent.
  Dorritt | Jan 14, 2019 |
"You are the most absurd person I've ever met. You've bumbled through every moment and been a fool; you've misunderstood and misspoken and tripped over absolutely everything and everyone in your path and you've won and you don't even realize it." Carlos Pelu

"It's not that you're a bad writer. It's that you're a bad gay." Finley Dwyer

When author, Arthur Less of San Francisco, receives a wedding invitation to his ex-lover's wedding he realizes he can not stay around to observe it or even think about it. To get as far away as possible, he accepts every invitation he receives to book events around the world. He begins his trek of avoidance in New York City followed by Mexico City, Turin, Berlin, Morocco, India and finally, Japan. Though he avoids the wedding, chance run ins with former acquaintances and the making of new alliances can not help him avoid his 50th birthday. The trip becomes an introspective journey of regrets and missed opportunities.
The voice of the unknown narrator who seemed to observe Less from a distance, at first, was annoying and unconventional but eventually began to grow on me. There's a bit of humor and Less grows on the reader and can be quite endearing. All in all, a satisfying book with a sweet conclusion.
3.5/5 ( )
  Carmenere | Jan 12, 2019 |
An adorable book with an unforgettable quirky character. Andrew Less is a gay writer, but he's also so much more. He's scared, naive, hopeful, and in total denial. When his young paramour breaks it off with him and announces his marriage, Less knows he must go. He can't possibly be around while his lover get married to someone else. He clears his calendar and makes a plan. For once, he's going to start RSVPing to author events and vacations. He will get out of California and spend months traveling and forgetting all about his paramour. From an author event in NYC to a conference in Mexico to teaching a class in Germany, Less finds a way to travel for free. The only problem is, he can't escape his past no matter where he travels or what he does. Plucky, cute, inventive, and fun. I adored this book. Andrew Less is a character you won't soon forget. ( )
  ecataldi | Jan 9, 2019 |
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Receiving an invitation to his ex-boyfriend's wedding, Arthur, a failed novelist on the eve of his fiftieth birthday, embarks on an international journey that finds him falling in love, risking his life, reinventing himself, and making connections with the past.… (more)

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Average: (3.73)
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