Author: Andrew Sean Greer
ISBN: 978-0-316-31613-2 (paperback)
Publisher: Back Bay Books/Little, Brown and Company
Goodreads Rating: 3/5 stars
Content Warnings: None
Less is the story of Arthur Less, a man no longer young. Arthur Less is an author who hasn’t gained any particular notoriety. Arthur Less has always been interested in older men, but now at forty-nine, his lovers from years gone by are in their seventies and eighties, and he struggles to come to terms with that passage of time. His boyfriend of nine years, Freddy Pelu, is engaged to another person, and he is invited to the wedding. Arthur Less doesn’t know what he wants, but he know that he does NOT want to be at that wedding.
To distance himself from Freddy’s wedding, Arthur picks up every invitation he has to speaking events, guest teaching positions, and writer’s retreats and accepts ever single one. From his home in San Francisco Less travels to Mexico, Italy, Germany, Morocco, India, and Japan. He runs from his mediocre writing career. He runs from his ex’s wedding. He runs from his fiftieth birthday. Less knows what he is running away from, but not what he wants to move towards.
Less is a character study of a man that doesn’t want to change, even as the world around him does. That creates a strange tone as the reader follows Arthur around the world. This is a novel in which things just happen to him. I don’t know if Less learned a thing or if he changed at all over the months he spent abroad. And that’s sort of the point. Less is not a happy person. He’s single and lonely. He ties his self esteem to his success as an author, so when people criticize his work, it reinforces his own inferiority complex. He’s a static person that struggles to keep a grasp on the world that rapidly changes and moves away from him.
Arthur Less is, in his own opinion “…the first homosexual ever to grow old.” This is objectively untrue, especially as he meets and reunites with other gay man his age and older. Still, Less seems to have doubted that he would have survived the AIDS epidemic of the 1980’s, yet he did. It’s not a major point, but it’s one that stuck with me. Maybe that’s one reason that Arthur is stuck in the past and remains stuck in his 20’s. He didn’t think that he would be able to face his 30’s, not even to mention entering his 50’s. I sort of wish that with all of the time that Less spends looking back into Arthur’s youth, the friends that he had lost were more than a passing thought. It was a missed opportunity.
To quote another work, time’s arrow neither stands still nor reverses. It merely marches forward. Arthur Less can’t comprehend that, and focuses on the nostalgic past rather than the possibility-filled future. And honestly, that bothered me. In the second half of Less, the story got monotonous and (without giving it away) the ending was the definition of anticlimactic. While the journey itself was an interesting montage of locations and characters, none of them feel real. They’re just props and set pieces for Arthur Less to explore. It’s an adventure novel and a comedic take on a clueless American man flung into cultures that he knows nothing about, but it falls flat towards the end because it ends exactly where it started.