Arthur Less is an author of middling success.
Years ago, he had written an acclaimed book called Calypso, a modern-day retelling of The Odyssey. Since then, his books have gone downhill. They all seem to be retreads of Calypso, featuring men who are wandering through life.
Less’s personal life seems to be following the same pattern. His sometimes boyfriend, Freddy, has grown tired of waiting for Less and is marrying another man. When he’s invited to their wedding, Less instead accepts every international invitation he can. Guest teach at a German college? Sure! Go to Italy for some small awards ceremony? Why not! If he’s traveling across the globe, it gives him the perfect excuse to avoid facing Freddy and his wedding.
But his thoughts keep returning to Freddy. Did he make a mistake in not committing? Boy, does he miss him.
Andrew Sean Greer won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction with this novel, and it’s not surprising.
Less is an excellent novel. It’s a meta Odyssey within an Odyssey, allowing the reader to make those literary connections to Homer’s original. But it’s also good as a standalone story. Go deep or skim the surface – either way, Less is a satisfying read.
One thing Greer does very well is give us a sense of the character using place and time. Another book of his, The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells, does this beautifully Greta, mourning her deceased brother, undergoes a series of electroconvulsive therapies. Each shock, though, sends her through time into her life in a different era. Through each of the travels through time, we get an intimate sense not only of Greta Wells, but of what it means to be a woman in that particular time and location.
Greer does the same with Less. When Arthur Less travels the word, we get knowledge of what it means to be a gay man in modern times, what the community thinks of him, and the revelations he has about himself.
Even playing up Less’s name is a fun diversion. He’s living a lesser life. Giving less of himself than he should. Enjoying less success.
It’s time for Less to aim for more.
Andrew Sean Greer
Published July 2017
Lee Boudreaux Books