Less, by Andrew Sean Greer Rothdas book review RSS
2.0 Stars

Not a bad novel, but not a great one either. The basic idea is that a second-rate gay author is traveling the world to avoid thinking about his ex's wedding. He deals with travel travails while sorting through memories and relationships from his last 50 years. The central problem that the novel has is that the central character is not entirely interesting or sympathetic, and so there's not much joy in reading about his endless navel gazing and self regard. Breaking this down into more concrete terms: the main character, Less, is supposed to have this flaw where his life is undignified, e.g. one time at a party he got Tibet and Nepal mixed up, and that was super embarrassing and worth remembering. And for him maybe that would be one of the most embarrassing moment of his life, but for me that would just be a Tuesday. This flaw of indignity is never really brought to any real depth or weight, it is like in a YA novel where the worst flaw the author can stand to give the protagonist is that she is supposedly clumsy. Which brings us to the flaw #2, the self pity and self regard. Like, there are worse and less dignified fates than to travel the world while being served and waited on by other people. For instance, you could be any one of those people who works to make your existence possible. Or you could be one of their children who will have to deal with the massive carbon foot print from all of your air travel. The narrator doesn't actually have anything seriously or uniquely wrong with his life, so it makes reading about his made up troubles kind of blah. At least he won't be having any kids to add to our environmental problems. Which brings us to flaw #3, the blurry sex. There's a lot of nominal sex in the book, but it's also unclear what exactly is going on. E.g. the book does this sort of 1950's movie dissolve whenever actual sex comes up. The story would have been improved with more heat, with a sex dungeon or two, with some honesty or detail about what it is these characters desire and enjoy. I felt like _Brenda_ had more realism about sexual desire in 3 pages than this book does in 300 pages. Then there are problems with the relationships, e.g. the two main relationships in the book are about 40 year old dudes hooking up with 20 year olds. Not hooking up with someone who is in their 20's, rather hooking up with someone who is literally 20 years old. Which is just creepy and predatory. Which is not to say I wouldn't do it, but I also would not be under any illusions about it. But the book is perfectly fine with this sort of action. Which bring us to issue #4) ... actually I've kind of run out of interest in criticizing the novel, so I will just stop there. Oh wait actually one more: no one is interested in an entertainment-unit about making said entertainment-unit. Don't write a novel about writing a novel, don't write a song about writing a song, don't make a movie about making a movie, don't make a video game about running a video game studio. It's tired already. Write to your reader's fantasies, not your own, that is your job.

On the plus side, the writing is competent and often cheerful. There is light humor which frequently works, there are some brief and enjoyable travelogue descriptions of various parts of the world, and there's some grounded and well thought out sensory descriptions. I also liked the tiny bits about the different authors' work habits, which were not ground breaking but were accurate to life.

Oh, and this novel won a Pulitzer. ?? I have no idea how that worked out, except that the novel seems somewhat tailored to what (I imagine) the Pulitzer committee would like, e.g. the novel name-checks the Pulitzers and Proust, the novel is about writers and writing novels, the novel has a ton of self-regard, the novel has Oprah-type sentiments, the novel is about the upper middle class of the cultural production set. Ok so maybe the author was writing to a very particular sort of reader, it just wasn't someone like me.