STARRED REVIEW
October 2022

Less Is Lost

By Andrew Sean Greer
Less Is Lost, the companionable sequel to Andrew Sean Greer’s Pulitzer-winning novel, Less, traces a hapless writer’s further misadventures.
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Comedy is rarely granted the same measure of literary recognition or respect as works that are tragic, epic or historic, so Andrew Sean Greer’s 2018 Pulitzer Prize for his comic novel, Less, was a welcome surprise. It didn’t hurt that the contemporary satire unapologetically skewered the literary community as it chronicled the midlife breakdown of “minor American writer” Arthur Less. Greer tapped his singular skill for blending multiple tropes to amusing effect: the life-in-crisis travelogue, the quirky gay love story, a mysterious Bronte-esque narrator whose identity is kept under wraps until the end of the book. (The snazzy red suit Greer wore to the Pulitzer Prize ceremony won him even more fans.)

As the title suggests, Greer’s new novel, Less Is Lost, is a sequel, picking up the misadventures (and misdirected travels) of the hapless Arthur Less. Arthur is facing both emotional and literal upheaval: His former lover and mentor, Robert Brownburn, has died, leaving a hole in his heart and revealing the startling fact that Arthur owes 10 years in back rent for the home where he believed he was living rent-free. Arthur has recently acquired an affectionate pug and a converted camper van from a much-lionized novelist with three initials in his name—so to stave off homelessness, he embarks in the camper van on a bizarre itinerary of marginally literary events that take him to, among other places, a hot springs retreat in the Arizona desert (which he proceeds to flood), the Navajo reservation, an antebellum plantation in Georgia and an island off the coast of Savannah where his long-estranged father is dying.

Enroute across the country, Arthur fields abrupt, stress-inducing phone calls from his fast-talking literary agent. As he discovers the America that lies between the coasts, he also sort of—though not too definitively—discovers things about himself, most of them having to do with our need for love and human connection. As with Less (but no longer a secret), the narrator is Arthur’s beloved partner, Freddy Pelu, who has a magical capacity for seeing into Arthur’s heart and soul in ways Arthur himself cannot. And Freddy, it turns out, proves a third-person narrator in the manner of Nick Carraway, discovering things about himself as he ostensibly serves as Arthur’s Alice B. Toklas. 

Greer writes with an offbeat, gentle humor, and his narrative, in the voice of the somewhat enigmatic Freddy, is peppered throughout with well-observed irony and occasional profundity. Arthur Less himself, no doubt, would be stymied at the prospect of following up the success of a Pulitzer, but Greer clearly is made of sterner stuff than his fictional creation. And if Less Is Lost lacks some of the snap of the prizewinner, it admirably transports eager readers into the world of Arthur and Freddy with tenderness and wit.

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Less Is Lost

Less Is Lost

By Andrew Sean Greer
Little, Brown
ISBN 9780316498906

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