Andrew Sean Greer, the latest winner of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, could, no doubt, hardly care less what your reviewer has to say about his novel “Less.” But I’ll weigh in nonetheless.
“Less,” the story of a minor author traveling around the world to avoid attending his former lover’s wedding, is delightful from start to finish. Arthur Less is gay, heartbroken, middle aged and at loose ends as the dreaded wedding approaches. Less’ global circling trip is described by an intrusive, mysterious narrator (whose identity is at last revealed) who portrays the hapless Less as a man bumbling through his life. Still, the narrator clearly finds Less estimable despite (or because of) his awkward approach to most every situation.
Less’ journey, ultimately, leads him to the exact place he needs to be. The reader is treated to laughter and poignancy along the way. Indeed, the book is consistently funny in a way that is uncommon in literary fiction.
Arthur Less’ persona is reminiscent of another evocatively named Arthur from a classic work of comedic literature — Arthur Dent from Douglas Adams’ “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.” Both Arthurs are at pains to understand situations that seem increasingly inexplicable while the limits of their resolve are tested. Here’s a description of Arthur Less from early in “Less”:
“Name a day, name an hour, in which Arthur Less was not afraid. Of ordering a cocktail, taking a taxi, teaching a class, writing a book. Afraid of these and almost everything else in the world. Strange, though; because he is afraid of everything, nothing is harder than anything else. Taking a trip around the world is no more terrifying than buying a stick of gum. The daily dose of courage.”
“Less” is more than an amusing diversion. At heart, it’s a story about coming to terms with middle age, what has been lost, and what still might be gained.
What: Andrew Sean Greer will read from “Less”
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Prairie Lights Books, 15 S. Dubuque St., Iowa City