Let’s start with Andrew Sean Greer, shall we, a writer we have liked since we read The Path of Minor Planets all the way back in the early 2000s. We liked everything that followed – The Confessions of Max Tivoli, The Story of a Marriage and The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells, all the while acknowledging that he didn’t seem to be doing as well as he deserved to be doing. He was a far better writer than his book sales appeared to give him credit for.
And then we had Less – the Pulitzer Prize winning comedy that seems to have pushed him, somewhat bemusedly, into the mainstream (or as close to the mainstream as anyone who writes books for a living ever really gets). Less was the story of a middle-aged author who wasn’t quite in the place he thought he should be, who had written a book that was rejected by his publisher, who was considering turning the whole thing into a comedy as he made his error-strewn, lackadaisical way about the world. Strangely, we didn’t quite get along with it as much as we had his others books, but whatever we didn’t get out of it was more than offset by the fact that a writer we liked was finally doing well. Huzzah for that.
And now, perhaps unsurprisingly, Less is back, emblazoned in quotes from the likes of David Sedaris (who says it’s “wildly, painfully funny”), in a book that finds Less in a slightly better place, albeit still a little bemused by the world and likely to say and do the wrong thing (particular where the German language is concerned – Less thinks he speaks the language well; he doesn’t). This time around, Less’ elderly former lover has passed away and the passing reveals that Less has something of a financial hole to fill and so off he goes, traipsing about the US this time, taking on a profile of an author here, accompanying a theatrical tour there and finally embarking upon a literary tour. Or at least that is the promise.
The humour is gentle. About as gentle as gentle can be. Here, for example, is humour:
“Here he stands, our hero, looking around like a man who has grown a mustache and is waiting for someone to notice.
He has, in fact, grown a mustache. He is, in fact, waiting for someone to notice.”
When Less’ lover, Freddy, arrives at an island in which he plans to retreat for a while, he is greeted by a sign that says, “Closed for the season. Reason? Freezin’.” A woman on the dock tells him (a gay man), “No fairies.” It takes him a moment to understand she is referring to the mode by which we would travel across the strait on a good day.
As you’d expect from Greer at this point, there is warmth and wisdom:
“It’s kindness and human spirit that drives us. We have one another. That’s all we have. We must cerebrate them. Remember that. I don’t care who you love, but if you love someone… if you love someone, you have to love them every day. You have to choose them every day.”
The Greer of his more serious books is still here, too:
“The landscape is reversed; the desert is now in the sky, streaked with heliotrope and tawny gold as if along the crests of sand dunes, and below it spreads a dark galaxy of spiny plants: the Joshua trees. They lie out on the horizon in clumps, Holy Rollers at a revival, lifting their heavy arms. How long has this been going on? For all time? Why did no one tell him?”
We suspect that, at the very least, there is one more Less book to come (in which Less’ lover maybe comes to be a success in his own right and Less possibly has to trail him on his own US tour in support of the – dan-dan-dah! – books we’ve been reading). Some people have felt that Less is Lost isn’t quite as good as Less (we don’t really agree, it’s fine) although we do look forward to the day when Greer has come out the other side of his Less-phase and we get something else altogether.
Any Cop?: Not quite a Rabbit and not quite a Bascombe, Less is Lost is light and sometimes frothy whilst occasionally nodding to loftier climes.