“Less is Lost” by: Andrew Sean Greer

“Less is lost”

Author: Andrew Sean Greer

Publisher: Little, Brown & Co,

New York, 2022

Pages: 257

Price: $29.00 (hardcover)

In 2018, middle-aged novelist Andrew Sean Greer published Less, his sixth book starring Arthur Less, a middle-aged novelist whose latest manuscript was just rejected by his publisher and whose ex-boyfriend, Freddy, has his marriage to announced to someone else. Arthur has always lacked self-confidence, is emotionally tender and easily upset. He’s not even sure if he’s a “bad gay guy” or not, whatever that means, and Arthur doesn’t know.

To avoid marriage, Arthur accepts a series of invitations he would normally have declined and embarks on a world tour that takes him to NYC, Mexico, Italy, Germany, Morocco, Japan and Tahiti. He meets some really weird people, has hilarious adventures, some romantic ones, and returns.

“Less” surprisingly and deservedly won the Pulitzer Prize. Graphic novels, like comic movies, don’t typically win big awards. These are reserved for heavy, serious works that carry a burden of cultural pain and are therefore deemed important.

Arthur the unfortunate is important too!

In this great sequel, Arthur must contend with a new disaster. He needs to make a lot of money fast or lose his small home in San Francisco.

So – he embarks on another prankster adventure across the country at any literary gig that pays him off.

The picaresque, which has its novelistic basis in Cervantes’ Don Quixote and is best represented in America by Huck Finn, is an amazingly useful form. The protagonist goes from episode to episode and at each stop new problems and new eccentric characters appear.

Greer again contains some lopsided thoughts about the author’s life. Arthur’s former longtime lover, the much older man and famous poet Robert Brownburn, had told him: “I’m sorry you became a writer… I’m sorry this disaster has befallen you.”

Instead of floating through life like most people, the writer has to “pay attention”.

The science fiction writer he is interviewing in New York, HHH Mandern, tells him the present time in America is the Age of Iron, a low point with only a fraction of the old magic left, BUT writers “are the fraction of the old Magic that remains.”

A Czech writer he meets criticizes Arthur for being a typical American writer, whom he defines as a writer who only knows New York City, San Francisco and Boston and doesn’t “care” about the rest of the country.

Arthur will sort it out, get in touch with America. He sets out in a rickety RV on assignments in a community in the Mojave Desert, in Santa Fe, and then, with trepidation, in Alabama.

His friend Freddy is worried. “I heard they killed gays there.” And “Maybe being white isn’t enough.”

Arthur is intrepid, but buys a baseball cap, a HOOT ‘N’ HOLLER t-shirt, and several miniature American flags so he doesn’t stand out.

He will first visit Natchez, then Oxford, and with a theater company dramatizing one of his stories, Muscle Shoals. He notices a banner that reads “Our citizens are the tallest people in the world” and wonders what locals think when they see this every day.

There is confusion and embarrassment – Arthur’s specialty – and, like Telemachus in another picaresque, The Odyssey, Arthur searches for his lost father, but the greater search is America.

He muses, “America, how’s your marriage going? Your two hundred and fifty-year promise to stay together in sickness and in health?”

Greer has written another comic masterpiece. Don’t take my word for it. David Sedaris says, “The book is ‘wildly, painfully funny’. He’s right.