Books: “Less is Lost” by Andrew Sean Greer
Andrew Sean Greer’s novel “Less” hit the sweet spot: it was both adored by readers and showered with literary awards, including the 2018 Pulitzer Prize. The story of Arthur Less, an eccentric minor novelist who roams the world from San Francisco to Morocco, was so endearing, in fact, a friend of mine used to give paperback copies of the book as birthday presents.
I expected that Greer’s followup novel “Less is Lost” would also be a charmer. Unfortunately, as F. Scott Fitzgerald once said, “there are no second acts in American lives” and in this case, that might also apply to certain American novels.
In “LIL,” our protagonist learns that probate court is dunning him for years of back rent on his ex-BF’s San Francisco home. To earn his daily bread, he is forced to take gigs that are beneath his dignity, starting with a road trip to profile novelist HHH Mandern, an Orson Welles-like prima donna. Traveling in Mandern’s broken-down RV and accompanied by a dog named Dolly, Less passes through the Mojave desert to Santa Fe, up along the Mississippi, through Alabama and Georgia, to his home town in Delaware and beyond.
There are a few flashes of wit in this cross-country hegira. A series of cutesy, randomly kooky events, however, does not a satisfying novel make. Particularly for the author, whose writing John Updike once praised as “enchanting, in the perfumed, dandified style of disenchantment brought to grandeur by Proust and Nabokov.”
I suspect Greer is already writing a third book about Less. Not so sure this is a good idea: If the second act didn’t work, to borrow a Fitzgerald metaphor, who’s gonna stick around for the third?