I recently finished reading Andrew Sean Greer’s novel, Less. It was a recommendation from my brother, Alex. I asked him if he knew any particularly interesting books from the LGBT Community. And I actually would have started reading it back in June, during Pride Month. However, circumstances didn’t allow me to start in on the book until July. And I only just finished it now, in August. But that’s just because I’m a pretty slow reader. I’m honestly really glad that I read this book.
Less follows the story of Arthur Less, a San Francisco writer who found critical- and commercial success with his first novel… but then fell into something of a sophomore slump. For, like, a decade. His love life parallels his career, though the reader only gets bits and pieces of what transpired between him and his long-time partner Robert. They’re still friends, but no longer a couple.
In the meantime, Arthur got swept up in a relationship with a much younger man named Freddy. And as fate would have it, Freddy also happened to be the son of one of his Arthur’s rivals: Carlos. As one might expect, Carlos conspires to break up the relationship between Arthur and Freddy. And that’s basically where the action of the story starts: with Freddy announcing his engagement to another man. Leaving Arthur Less to figure out his own way forward, both literally and figuratively. Less ultimately decides to accept a number of speaking engagements in different parts of the world. In order to distract himself. And, of course, to make sure that he’s not able to make it to Freddy’s wedding. He travels everywhere from Central America to Western Europe to Northern Africa to South Asia.
And that sounds kind of fun and frivolous, right? But honestly, the first two-thirds of the book felt pretty vapid and unhinged. It was a lot of exposition… shallow relationships… bumbling career choices… awkward moments of cultural misunderstanding. It actually didn’t feel all that fun to read of the escapades of Arthur Less, as he was trying desperately to escape from the painful situation back home in San Francisco.
The last third of the book, however, became surprisingly real. And surprisingly powerful.
The pivot in the narrative happened when the protagonist himself suddenly came to realize his own flailing. (I felt relieved to discover that I wasn’t just missing the point!). It was the eve of his 50th birthday. He found himself increasingly alone, in the mountains of Morocco. And it was fascinating to follow the totally new ways in which he starts to grapple with his aloneness. His struggle felt startlingly resonant with my own life. Which is remarkable, considering the fact that I’ve never been to Morocco. I’m not a renown author, I’m not a gay man, and I’m not single.
Up until that point, I had basically been trudging through the narrative, dutifully completing my self-assigned homework… But then the story suddenly turned that corner and revealed something of myself. I was amazed to see the masterful literary labyrinth that had been laid out by the author.
Like Arthur Less, I’ve been recently intimidated to think of the bell-shaped pattern to life. The pattern involves complete and utter dependence at either end (to the point of diapers and liquid diets). And like Arthur Less, I came to realize that I’m past the mid-point. Maybe even a full decade past that fattest, fullest part of the curve, when our family had a full house and full schedules. It feels like our family took forever building up to a household of two… then three… then four… and then five. But now, in almost no time, our family has quickly trimmed itself back to a household of three. And even at that, Cor keeps getting busier and busier, more and more peer-focused, more and more independent. There are days now where I feel overwhelmed by a profound sadness that seems as though it will only deepen with time.
Arthur Less eventually overcame his struggles by leaning back on his innocence. By letting love come to him, instead of him desperately pursuing love (or deliberately running away from love). And in a similar way, I’m trying to trust God through these recent changes in my life, relying freshly on the Good News of Jesus that promises a restoration of innocence and a home within the love of God. My spiritual spin on things is different from the way that the story of Less resolved. But it feels similarly hopeful.
There may be more nights of flailing like Less. Feeling like Less. And worried that I’ve got Less and Less to work with. (the author loves to develop puns around his protagonist’s last name, so I feel free to do the same). Ultimately, though, I found Less to be a story of more hope, peace, and love.