"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. The question is: How do you arrange to skip town? The answer is 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."
There is a bit absurdness to Andrew Sean Greer’s protagonist of Arthur Less, something that the reader discovers early on in this brilliant Pulitzer Prize winning novel, but is only verbalized later, is that despite seeing himself a failure in life, he is indeed one of those people you meet in your everyday life who somehow succeeds at many things, but never realizes it. Less though is also about a man reaching “middle age” and wonders if he’s “too old to meet someone” after a few relationship break-ups. This is the reality that some gay men face, especially Arthur who’s had two long affairs that seemed to drift apart (though one did, the other becomes the cliché of a younger lover leaving him for yet another man).
There is not much of plot, but the book becomes a sort of a travelogue, a gay version of Love, Eat, Pray. It’s filled with a wonderful prose that brings out happiness, sadness and many guffaws. It’s treatise on accepting that life does not end at fifty (which many gay men wrestle with) and that maybe, somehow, the universe will work in your favor, even if you do everything to resist it.
It’s a bit sappy, then, but again, the prose is lyrical and pacing a slow burn (there is a reference to Charlie Chaplin in the book, which reinforces the idea [good or bad] that Arthur Less is much like Chaplin’s alter-ego of the Tramp who stumbles though various adventures looking like a failure, but maybe is not), which some might have trouble with. But this human comedy, this satire of a life, is wonderfully realized here. It’s inspired in many ways and in this day and age, maybe this is what we all need.