will greer

Less, by Andrew Sean Greer

What a soft-hearted bastard of a novel.

It’s the story of a failed — failing — novelist about to turn fifty. His long-time lover is marrying someone else, and he’s been invited to the wedding. To avoid the whispers and rumors that would abound, he takes the only course of action he can imagine: accepting every literary invitation he’s been putting off, a journey that will take him around the globe and well away from the wedding of the man he loved. Loves.

It had me from the first page, and I’m not even precisely sure why. The prose is wonderful, to be sure. Playful, rollicking, sly, observant. The main character, the anxious and vain Arthur Less, is boyish and gentle and smart and I adore him. The narrator (whose identity I guessed with increasing hope and anticipation as the pages went on) guides us skillfully through present events and past ones, uncovering the parts of Less that need to become More in order to find happiness. The settings —San Francisco, New York, France, India, Japan — are wondrously and precisely evoked. Side characters caper in with delicious specificity and purpose, both thematic and human. Is one of those aspects what I loved? Is all of them what I loved?

I actually think I loved it because of what it believes. There’s a line in the book — I had to fetch it to quote it exactly — that I think is what the book says on every page:

“Just for the record: happiness is not bullshit.”

That belief in happiness and love is what makes this novel a comfort read. Every character is desperately flawed and every setting has a rainy day and every relationship is complicated, but its over-arching naive and wavering pursuit of happiness is what made this book feel like something I wanted to curl up in for a long time.

I’ll be rereading this one many times.