Less is Lost by Andrew Sean Greer is the follow-up to the Pulitzer Prize-winning Less. A sequel is always risky, right (particularly when the ending of the first book was perfection)? Thankfully, Greer gets it right and all of the things I loved about Arthur Less the first time, were there again (especially Arthur’s wonderfully bad German).
In Less, Arthur (a mediocre novelist) traveled around the world to avoid his ex’s wedding. When we meet Arthur in Less is Lost, he is a moderately accomplished novelist in a steady relationship with his partner, Freddy. However, it’s not quite happily-ever-after, and circumstances force Arthur to accept a series of literary gigs that send him zigzagging across America.
Like the first installment, Less is Lost is an episodic comedy-of-errors, and a few repeated elements (a pug, a camper van, a musical and mistaken identities) tie the stories from Arthur’s past and present together.
…all that is left is Arthur Less and the stage. He is transported to his childhood when, taken to a show by a neighbor, he watched in awe and thought, as he thought when he first saw the Rocky Mountains, why did no one tell me life could be this? …instead of Puritan hard work and failed get-rich schemes, promises broken and pointless battles waged, life could be sequins and song. He felt he’d been lied to from the Pilgrims on down. The secret had been kept from him like a mad aunt locked in the basement, and now a neighbor had innocently set her loose and she was wonderful. He understood everyone was wrong about life and if they were wrong about that, then they could be wrong about him. It seemed possible, only for those two hours, that he as well, somewhere inside could be sequins and song.
Greer strikes the ideal balance between humour and examining the big themes – this time the focus is on identity, family and ageing. The dialogue between Arthur and his sister is a highlight, and the relationship between Arthur and his father provides intrigue.
I’m not as familiar with the places that Arthur visits in America as I was when he was touring European cities, so some of the humour and fine detail may have been lost on me (this also applies to Greer’s attempts to bring elements of US race history and race relations into the story – again, I’m not across the specifics). Nevertheless, his adventures through the ‘Mild Mild West’ and the South gave Greer the opportunity for some excellent writing about deserts, bayous, and what the heart wants. Was it a successful exploration of identity? Perhaps not so much, as some parts felt clumsy but overall, Less is Lost is entertaining.
I received an audio copy of Less is Lost from the publisher, Hachette Audio, via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.
3.5/5 Could be read as a standalone novel, but I suggest start with Less.
Less describing his first kiss –
…picture the two white boys dancing like debutantes. Less, with his arms around Riley’s shoulders. They were quite drunk. I imagine it was a surprise for both of them when they kissed – a rusty cocktail of Drambuie, George Michael and a suffocating desire to be touched.
Drambuie and George Michael – love it 🙂
Couldn’t resist that quote!
Nicely done review. Haven’t decided yet if I’ll read/listen to this one. I listened to Lost and it was ok. We’ll see.
Honestly, if you didn’t love the first one you probably won’t enjoy this one because it is more of the same (in terms of character, structure and style).
Gave my son Less but am not sure whether he read it. I would like to read both. Having travelled around quite a bit of the USA (except the mid-west!) I would enjoy his experience of place I expect, but, regardless, the whole set up – and done humorously – appeals.