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  • Writer's pictureThe Bossy Bookworm

Review of Less Is Lost (Arthur Less #2) by Andrew Sean Greer

As with book one in the Arthur Less series, I was pleasantly surprised by the heart and vulnerability beneath the absurdities and funny moments of Arthur's escapist journey--this time across the United States--in Less Is Lost.

In Andrew Sean Greer's (Pulitzer-Prize-winning) novel Less, we met the character of Arthur Less as he was about to turn fifty and was facing his status as a novelist of limited acclaim.

When his ex sent him a wedding invitation, Arthur panicked. He felt that he couldn't possibly attend, but that he couldn't stay home, either.

He decided to accept all of the random literary event invitations he'd received for the coming months and to put together a makeshift tour of the world, putting thousands of miles between himself and his problems.

...novelists, with their love of structure and language and symmetry in novels, are frequently mistaken about the people who inhabit the actual world....

In book two, Less Is Lost, Arthur faces the death of a former lover as well as a financial crisis--and again turns to the distracting schedule and constant movement of a literary tour to attempt to run from coping. Yet despite himself, he continually runs up against himself in unexpected, clarifying moments that reinforce who he is, has been, and wants to be. There's even an ongoing identity confusion subplot to really underline this element.

We could invent a time machine, my Walloon, and go back and never choose each other. We could go back further still and try it all over again with what we know; try to be young together and in love, the way hardly anybody gets to be. Young and foolish and happy. But I have an easier solution: Just take the ordinary time machine. And try to grow old. Old and foolish and happy.

I wondered if Less Is Lost would rely heavily on the context of the first book, and after reading it, I'm not certain this one can stand on its own, because it felt that it built on the story in Less with more of Arthur's often emotionally stunted encounters and his frequent inability to accept and address complicated realities.

I was distracted at first by the shifts in points of view and by Freddy's omniscient role here--and I felt a little disappointed that the long-distance, repeatedly-thwarted reunions between the lovers didn't allow for the story to build their in-person connection. But the separation allows them to grow as individuals--and staying in Freddy's point of view allows his character to display interesting layers that worked to develop him more fully.

But as with Less, I was pleasantly surprised by the depth that crept up on me here. Less's mishaps, assumptions, wrong turns, and excruciatingly slow growth in emotional maturity lead to appealing vulnerability, lots of funny moments, a building, brave resignation, adventurous departures from the expected, poignant heartbreak, and redemption.

I do take some issue with the elderly descriptions of Less (one example: "Less's [hair], of course, has faded to an abbot's tonsure..."). He later reveals that he is not yet 55! Ouch.

The story takes on somewhat of an evaluation of "the state of the United States" as Greer uses Less's encounters with various colorful characters to inject hope regarding the state of our country and grace for those with different manners of facing the world as best they can.

Do you have any Bossy thoughts about this book?

Check out this link for my review of Andrew Sean Greer's Less, a book that was the right one at the right time for me.

I loved being surprised by the depth beneath Arthur's sometimes absurd take on the world in each of these books.


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