Andrew Sean Greer, Less

I fell half in love, a few months ago, with a man named Arthur Less.

Yes, sure, the standard puns apply: more or less, less of a man, less is more, etc.

And also he's the titular character of Andrew Sean Greer's Pulitzer-winning novel Less, so that'd complicate our relationship, and in any case I didn't love him enough even though I've talked hard about him.

(Synopsis: Arthur is about to turn 50, and is a middling success as a novelist. When a wedding invitation arrives for him to attend his much younger former boyfriend's nuptials, Arthur instead accepts every active writing-related invitation he's received in months, and pieces together a trip around the world, mostly on other people's dimes, just to avoid it. Humiliations, conflicts, minor dramas, and shopping ensue, and it's a lovely book with a low-key, very human character at its centre.)

This novel has gotten tons of love, I should say, from lots of sources more trustworthy than I am, so you should trust them if you're comfortable with Big Newspaper Reviewers. I've come to Less from the book club, we eight or so men who drink beer monthly at a different pub in our little city while talking about a book we've mostly read over the last month or so, and so my thoughts in this post start there.

Over the last thirteen years, the group's membership has been mostly white, mostly straight, entirely male (cis male). Our reading list, mostly ditto: we've read some writers of colour, some women writers, and so on, but not many. Our method is that everyone brings a title, and then after some communal sniping but no votes or vetoes, I put them into sequence, and that's our list for the next year or so (depending on how many group members there are). Over the years, we've read a few works of fiction with LGBTQ+ characters, and some of our writers have been, as well, but Arthur Less was certainly the character whose gayness was most relevant to the book.

And at book club, I was lightly struck that it wasn't as comfortable a read for some of us as for others, or as easy for some to talk about as for others. You don't have to like a book, obviously, there are lots of reasons not to like a book, and some of those reasons can be petty, which is fine. This month, for example, I'm overwhelmingly annoyed simply for the subgenre of Andre Agassi's Open: An Autobiography. (Celebrities who don't stay in their vastly over-compensated or -exposed lanes are literally stealing from real writers, and don't @ me about whatever visceral / poignant / revelatory celeb tome you've been transformed by.)

I don't mean there was anything homophobic in the discussion, just that there seemed to me some caution amongst us that it hadn't occurred to me might come up. Admittedly, I teach in a university literature department, so the contemporary literary and cultural openness to so many things LGBTQ+ is very familiar to me. And in my 20s, I'd not irregularly encounter mild surprise when it came out that I was straight, which never bothered me at all, and why would it, honestly, but it does bother some men, and so I suppose that's a difference.

And also, when I was 16 and in Vancouver for a few days with my family, I almost did a thing with a 40-ish guy named John Macdonald. He approached me while I was waiting for a payphone (it was that long ago!) at Pacific Centre Mall, and we ended up in his tiny, cheap, ninth-floor bachelor apartment close by, drinking a beer each and talking about Bob Dylan. He told me at one point about what he described as a long-term pointless crush on one of the bag-boys at his usual grocery, and I said I didn't know anything about that, and eventually when I left he asked if he could give me a hug, and I said he could, and that's where it ended.

It shouldn't have been a big thing, and in lots of ways it didn't feel like it was. Still, I've told this story only a couple of times in the intervening decades, and not in about 20 years, and this is a silence that's on me.

All of which is to say that we need, in our book club and our world, more diversity and more openness.

And also that I thought Andrew Sean Greer's Pulitzer-winning novel Less was a good read, but that I spoke more warmly in its favour that night than I would have if I'd thought everyone was more comfortable than I did. People who like Less mostly seem to like it a lot, but I liked it only enough.

In the end, maybe I was wrong about the mood. Maybe I'm even wrong about the book.

Sue me.


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