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"Less is Lost" Reviewed by William Winkler

William Faulkner is reported to have once said about Ernest Hemingway, "He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary." To which Hemingway replied, "Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words?"

Faulkner’s comment cannot be applied to the prose of Andrew Sean Greer, author of “Less Is More.” Most readers will likely need to consult a dictionary to discover that a lavvu is a temporary tent dwelling of far northern Europe, as well as other bits of esoterica sprinkled throughout the book. Such distractions should not deter the reader from this otherwise brisk and deceptively lightweight novel from the pen of the writer of “Less,” the 2018 winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

Arthur Less is a minimally successful, middle-aged American novelist who learns that the home he inhabits with his lover is not in fact his, but the property of the estate of his former long-time partner and esteemed poet, the recently deceased Robert Brownburn. Less is stunned to learn that the executor of the estate is demanding years of back rent to prevent the sale of the house to a developer for demolition.

Attempting to raise the money to satisfy the estate’s requirement Less accepts various projects. These include accompanying an aging science-fiction icon, H.H.H. Mandern (George R.R. Martin, anyone?), on a lecture tour of the southwest, serving on the panel for an unnamed literary award, and traveling with a theater troupe staging an adaptation of one Less’s semi-autobiographical short stories.

Less is also driven by the possibility of reuniting with his long-estranged father, whom he believes to be the financial benefactor of the band of itinerant actors.

The narrator is Less’s current partner, Freddy Pleu, who has isolated himself on a remote Maine island in an attempt to jump start a writing project of his own.

Greer’s characterizations of locations Less visits and the people he meets are satirical but never mocking. At a commune in Arizona, Less accidentally opens a jury-rigged irrigation valve that floods a “clothing optional” soaking pool in which Less finds himself the only naked participant. In Mississippi he visits a bar and watches a pink-haired woman named “Li’l Bit” and her eye patched partner named “Rooster” attempt to sing karaoke to “Oh What a Beautiful Morning.” And throughout the narrative Less and Pleu communicate their love for one another and their hope to be reunited soon.

“Less Is Lost” has the feel of a novel to be read in a hammock on a balmy late summer day. It is full of clever witticisms and adroit turns of phrase that will keep most readers engaged without demanding heavy intellectual investment.

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