Less, by Andrew Green
Publisher: Lee Boudreaux Books (Little Brown)
Release Date: July 18, 2017
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Who says you can’t run away from your problems?
You are a failed novelist about to turn fifty. A wedding invitation arrives in the mail: your boyfriend of the past nine years is engaged to someone else. You can’t say yes–it would be too awkward–and you can’t say no–it would look like defeat. On your desk are a series of invitations to half-baked literary events around the world.
QUESTION: How do you arrange to skip town?
ANSWER: You accept them all.
What would possibly go wrong? Arthur Less will almost fall in love in Paris, almost fall to his death in Berlin, barely escape to a Moroccan ski chalet from a Saharan sandstorm, accidentally book himself as the (only) writer-in-residence at a Christian Retreat Center in Southern India, and encounter, on a desert island in the Arabian Sea, the last person on Earth he wants to face. Somewhere in there: he will turn fifty. Through it all, there is his first love. And there is his last.
Because, despite all these mishaps, missteps, misunderstandings and mistakes, LESS is, above all, a love story.
A scintillating satire of the American abroad, a rumination on time and the human heart, a bittersweet romance of chances lost, by an author The New York Times has hailed as “inspired, lyrical,” “elegiac,” “ingenious,” as well as “too sappy by half,” LESS shows a writer at the peak of his talents raising the curtain on our shared human comedy.
You will probably never hear me say this again, so enjoy this while it lasts: This book was intoxicating.
At its heart, Less is the story of avoidance and language barriers, but most importantly it’s about a guy dealing with his life as a blooper reel. No, really, he ends up in the weirdest situations, and it’s very entertaining because he’s neither ignorant of it nor enthused by it. He’s pretty salty and self-deprecating, but not to the point where his esteem issues make the book depressing.
As Less says many times in the book “Happiness is not bullshit.” Although Greer pretty much tortures Less with his own failures (both grand life failures and the failure of not being able to navigate everyday absurdity), Less is still able to come out the other side. He gets something out of the constant awkwardness in his life instead of grumbling and trying to rally against it. He’s like. “yeah this is my life now, let’s roll and enjoy what I can even though I fail at everything.” It’s Eat, Pray, Love for salty realists (such as myself!).
It helps that this book was just incredibly charming and funny. Greer writes in a way that is high brow and smart without it seeming like he is talking down to you. He manages to turn Less’ everyday blooper reel of a life into something poignant and relatable. I think it was smart to have Less travel the world, because being the outsider in a country where you don’t speak the language is something a lot of people can relate to. Less himself wrote a “failed” novel about a middle aged white male walking around San Francisco, and this book is the complete opposite of that. Yeah the book is about Less and his “failures,” but we get this vibrant international cast that accepts him and his fumbling attempts to roll with the punches.
Normally I don’t really mention covers because I generally don’t care (not a dis on covers!). I just want to read the book, but sometimes a cover really just strikes me and I have to comment on it. This one is just so fitting to the book, and I just flat-out like the colors. I like that is shows Less falling and writing because that’s kind of how he sees himself and his life. This is also shown through the chapter titles (“Less French”, “Less German”…) until finally it is “Less at Last” where there is a kinda big thing that happens that was really cool (shhhh).
It was an exceptionally good book, and I was entranced from page one until the final page was turned. The only disappointing thing was that H.H.H. Mandern’s space operettas don’t exist!!!
Some quotes I enjoyed and show the book’s humor well:
Less (In faulty German) “But it is a mental illness! Who will come to me at eleven at night?”
“Oh, trust us, Mr. Less. This isn’t the United States. It’s Berlin”
“He stood there in his little Keralan house, with its view of the ocean and the Last Supper, and pictured himself walking up to Rupali and saying the most absurd sentence of his life: I am going to check myself into an Ayuverdic retreat unless the picnicking stops!”
“With a joy bordering on sadism, he degloves every humiliation to show its risible lining. What sport! If only one could do this with life!”
He is the bestselling author of The Story of a Marriage, which The New York Times has called an “inspired, lyrical novel,” and The Confessions of Max Tivoli, which was named one of the best books of 2004 by the San Francisco Chronicle and received a California Book Award.
The child of two scientists, Greer studied writing with Robert Coover and Edmund White at Brown University, where he was the commencement speaker at his own graduation, where his unrehearsed remarks, critiquing Brown’s admissions policies, caused a semi-riot. After years in New York working as a chauffeur, theater tech, television extra and unsuccessful writer, he moved to Missoula, Montana, where he received his Master of Fine Arts from The University of Montana, from where he soon moved to Seattle and two years later to San Francisco where he now lives. He is currently a fellow at the New York Public Library Cullman Center. He is an identical twin.
You can find him over at his website: http://andrewgreer.com/
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I received an advanced copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review.