Thursday, July 20, 2017

Book Review: "Less" by Andrew Sean Greer

It's been said (in a catty way, of course) that after age 42 gay men become invisible, that no one wants an older gay man except, if they're lucky, another gay man. Andrew Sean Greer's beautifully moving but slightly uneven new novel, Less, deals with a man coming to terms approaching his 50th birthday, wondering if he'll ever find true love, and trying to define himself and his career. No small feat, there!

When he was in his early 20s, he was the boyfriend of Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Robert Brownburn, who was a member of the famed Russian River School of writers and artists. Even though the relationship ended after a few years, Arthur has always been defined somewhat as the former boyfriend of Robert Brownburn, even as he experienced a slight bit of renown in his own literary career. Robert will always be Arthur's first love, even though Arthur knows he frittered away the relationship as many much-younger gay men would.

As Arthur's 50th birthday approaches, he is in the midst of a crisis. His former boyfriend of nine years (this time he picked someone younger) is getting married to someone else, and Arthur has been invited to the wedding. His publisher isn't interested at all in his newest novel. And he wonders if he'll spend the rest of his life alone, unloved and unsuccessful. So he does what any self-effacing person would do: he flees the country.

But he's not running away. (Well, yes, he is.) He's pursuing a number of different literary opportunities across the globe, which will end with some time at a writer's retreat in India, where perhaps he will be able to fix what ails his novel. Along the way he travels to Mexico, Italy, Germany, France, and Morocco, plumbing the depths of his soul, looking back at the memories of relationships gone sour, and trying to figure out where he goes from here, and whether he's made the biggest mistakes of his life by simply deciding not to decide things, not to say things, not to do things.

How does a man who always seems to intrigue, always seems to provoke feelings in others, figure out his self-worth, and find the courage to act instead of waiting for things to happen to him? There are lessons to be learned in mistakes and failures, but does he want to learn those lessons? What awaits him on the other side of 50?

Less is an emotional, somewhat elegiacal meditation on aging, love, and one's professional and romantic legacy. It is at times poignant, at times funny, even a little ridiculous occasionally, but tremendously thought-provoking. Greer brings so much poetry and beauty to his sentences, and even if his main character is a somewhat elusive enigma, at least to the reader, his lamentations and his journey are utterly fascinating.

I enjoyed this book quite a bit. I felt as if so much of this story was so interesting, so moving, that I was a little irritated when the narrative veered into almost farcical and/or metaphysical territory a few times. In a sense you know how the story may ultimately unfold, but Greer makes you wait a really long time for the payoff, and there were a few moments I just wanted Arthur to stop moping, stop walking around with his head in the sand, and speak, or act, the way he knows he should.

I have been a huge fan of Greer's since reading his first story collection, How It Was for Me. While it took me a while to get into what is perhaps his most famous book, The Confessions of Max Tivoli, I absolutely loved his other books, The Path of Minor Planets, The Story of a Marriage, and The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells. He is an absolutely beautiful storyteller, and even though this book has some flaws, reading Greer's writing is like eating a fine meal or watching a beautiful movie or play—you just don't want it to end, you want to savor every minute.

NetGalley and Little, Brown and Company provided me an advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making this available!

No comments:

Post a Comment