Book Review: Less

Aging is a strange thing.

There are days when I feel too young for most “adult” issues. Then I see the younger siblings of people I graduated high school with graduating high school, and suddenly I feel ancient as hell. Age is a weird number that means a bunch of different things to different people.

In Arthur Less’s case, turning 50 means it’s time to avoid an ex-boyfriend’s wedding and travel the world instead.

Andrew Sean Greer’s novel Less is a lot of things. It’s satirical, bittersweet, hopeful, and at times, even soft. It’s the first time in a while that a novel has made me genuinely smile and chuckle. I hadn’t heard about the Pulitzer win before reading, but after finishing the story, I can’t say I’m surprised.

Less satirizes many things—my personal favorite being the Russian River School writers, a clear take on writing movements like the Beats or other “Schools” of writers—but its satire at no point ever loses the romantic heart of the book. I was actually quite surprised with how romantic the book was, which in retrospect seems silly since the summary and premise all point you towards that. Yet, I don’t think it was the themes of romance that caught me off guard, but rather the romantic way in which the story was told.

One of the first things I noticed about Less is its narration style. The camera never leaves Arthur, and often follows him into his memories, but the one speaking is not Arthur. In fact, it becomes clear after a bit that the person speaking isn’t even the omniscient narrator we commonly see in third person works. No, the narrator is a character, and this makes the story not only more interesting, but more romantic.

The romantic language comes from outside the narrator as well, and there were multiple conversations that struck something within me as I read them. One that stuck out to me is a conversation between Arthur and a friend about what makes a relationship “a success.” It’s a striking moment of softness and something that, somehow, felt refreshing in how it was handled.

But in case you forgot already—remember, Less is still satirical. For all its romantic parts, there’s a good amount of humor as well. Greer made an excellent choice in choosing to have a character narrate, as there are moments of comedy that wouldn’t have worked the same, if at all, had the story been strictly from Arthur’s perspective.

There’s so much going for Less. It came as a surprise to me that a number of reviews complained about “nothing happening.” I would argue that a lot happens in this book, just perhaps not in the sense of “happening” that we typically think of. Less is not an action novel—it’s a novel about character, and as such, what “happens” is little on the outside, a lot on the inside.

If you enjoy character-driven novels where the focus is on their emotional journey (dare I say it, a coming of age story), then Less is definitely a novel you should check out. It’s a light but engaging read that will leave you feeling happy, amused, and somehow, in some way, loved. Or maybe I’m just getting old and sappy.

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