Arthur Less is back. The titular star of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Less, is being put through the emotional ringer once more by his author Andrew Sean Greer and the results are the same. But the same isn’t a bad thing when you’re talking about a bestselling, universally praised, gay comedy drama with a slew of awards including, you know, the aforementioned Pulitzer!
Fate has conspired to throw Arthur Less’ life a curveball and our eternally bewildered protagonist is sent out on the road with a beloved and cantankerous fantasy author, H.H.H. Mandern, in order to save the home he’s built with his lover Freddy. Less has to change, and as a white gay man in his 50s, he is resisting. Criss-crossing the country, from literary gig to literary gig, Less transforms, just not in the ways he anticipated.
Early on in the book, Less is asked a question, “What if we’re wrong?… What if the whole idea of America is wrong?” He is then thrust out into the middle of it, unprepared and under-resourced to see for himself. With little more than a single suit and a desperate need to succeed, Less is put into more and more bizarre situations—a gay fish, very much out of his water—that test him physically, emotionally, and perhaps spiritually.
Whereas the first book explored Arthur’s desire for love, and his insecurity over his own worth, Less is Lost starts to dig into his love life after the big rom-com moment. Less is older, probably not much wiser, and facing thoughts of mortality all around him. Ex-lovers, his father, and Mandern all bring up questions about what we owe to each other, what family is, and whether been we’ve been overlooking the beauty all around us.
Arthur Less is still the charming, ridiculous, wounded mess of a human that readers fell in love with back in 2017. He is still discovering himself, filled with self-deprecating wit and a beguiling lack of self-awareness (his overly-confident, but mangled attempts at speaking German are a joy to read). As one character tells him; “You may not know it, Arthur Less, but you’re full of adventure. You’re a reckless man.” If in 2017 we lived vicariously through Arthur’s desperate adventures, fleeing America for Europe (and in 2017 who didn’t want to flee America), the Arthur of 2022 is forced to stay and face America as it is, and to find his peace on home soil.
The spark that filled the original Less with such joy and relatable anxiety is here in abundance. It’s safe to say if you loved the first book, you’ll enjoy this one too. Greer has created a sequel that succeeds in doing what we all want from a sequel. The same but not the same. Different without being different. Going deeper without troubling the foundations.
Less is Lost is, unsurprisingly, a sweet return to the arms of a lover who knows you better than you know yourself. It’s a joy to be back here again, and if the book suffers at all, it’s only from the fact that we’re already familiar with the excellence of the writing and the character and our expectations are so much higher this time around. I would happily keep reading Arthur Less’ escapades for years to come.
By Chad Armstrong
Less is Lost is published on Tuesday, September 20th 2022. Pre-order/order now from your local independent bookstore.