This novel was an absolute delight–a warmhearted, unexpectedly up-put-down-able, beautifully surprising, funny, and refreshingly optimistic novel. It wasn’t even on my radar until it won the Pulitzer, and though I don’t put much stock in literary awards (they seem to be mostly hit or miss), I’d also heard good things about it, so I picked it up. I was expecting something funny and light–which Less was, but it was also so much more than that.
The book opens on the precipice of middling writer Andrew Less’s fiftieth birthday. His lover has recently left him, and shortly after, he receives an invite to his wedding. In order to avoid having to show up at this event, Less cobbles together a trip around the world by accepting invitations to various literary conferences and residences. It’s something of a quaint setup, but it works beautifully.
I stayed up late to finish this book because I couldn’t put it down. It’s one of those books that is funny and charming and lighthearted and whimsical and a little absurd, but is also deeply moving and very honest and also so artistically creative. I laughed out loud many times, but I also felt a bit queasy while reading it, in a good way, in that oh-god-I-really-want-things-to-work-out-for-this-quirky-loveable-character way, which kept me turning pages way past my bedtime.
There were a couple truly remarkable things about this book. The characters were so well-realized and felt whole and complicated and real–but in a very quiet way. Everyone in this book, including Less, seemed so ordinary, and most of what happened in the book was ordinary, too. Every interaction Less had with another person was just spot on. Every relationship in his life felt like one that Greer could have written a whole novel about, had he chosen to. It was one of those novels in which you could sense the layers of the characters, their living existence just underneath the page. That takes a lot of skill and talent to do, and it’s a joy to read.
It’s also a hysterical book in so many different ways. There’s self-depricatating humor, there’s straight up silliness, there’s absurdity, there’s irony, there’s humor that’s a little sad and humor that is very earnest. I laughed out loud more than once, I chuckled, I smiled. But the humor never distracted from the real emotion running through the whole book, which is what made the whole thing work.
Then there is the narration, which I absolutely adored. Greer structures the book in a way that’s creative both plot-wise and thematically. I’ll concede that it may not work for everyone, but for me, it was utter perfection. The narration is part of what drives the plot, but it’s also central to the how the story works emotionally. I thoroughly enjoyed everything about this novel, but it’s how Greer built it on a structural level that will stay with me for a long time.
Ultimately, Less is a great love story. It’s also about writing, and what makes a story, and aging, and the various ways important relationships change over time. But mostly it’s about how and why we love, and the weird routes we sometimes take to the people who matter.
One last thing: there is no queer suffering in this book. There is definitely human suffering–heartbreak and mistakes and loneliness and loss–but nobody suffers because they are queer. This is something I will continue to write about until it goes away, until the default for queer characters is no longer tragedy. Considering that the last novel with a gay protagonist to win the Pulitzer (as far as I know, anyway) was The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (one of my favorite novels of all time, but my god, the queer suffering), maybe it means something that, in 2018, it was this lighthearted but heartfelt gay love story, sans queer suffering, that won.
Is it too much to ask for the next book to win a major award to feature queer women and queer people of color? Let’s do this, America.