We love the ineffable, from terror to charm. Shockingly, terror is rather easy, but there is a lot to be afraid of in this world. Charm – the word implies magic, does it not? – is considerably more difficult. Consider this, then, the Miracle of the Summer. Less by Andrew Sean Greer has more charm than you’ll find in one place anywhere. Greer has crafted a lovely book about love and given it a cast of characters who will charm you. A glass of wine, a back porch in the sun, and you are set.
Arthur Less is considerably less set. He’s a sinking mid-list author whose long-term, live-in boyfriend has flown the coop to get married – to someone else. Arthur is invited, of course, and it is equally certain he does not wish to attend. Only by setting himself up with a summer of book-related travel can he escape, and his escape is ours. we learn all this from an oddly affectionate but rarely present narrator. Who is telling the story and why? This matters, almost as much as the enjoyment we find in Arthur’s travails and travels. We will find out, but what state will poor Arthur be in by then?
Less is a potted travelogue, a story of a journey that goes entertainingly badly for the characters involved, but wonderfully for the reader. In that eventful journey, expect to find Arthur Less in Mexico, Paris, the Sahara, India, Berlin, New York and other less palatable destinations. But wherever he goes, he in rendered i the most enjoyable, hilarious prose you can imagine. Less is less a character study, though there is plenty of that, and more of a comedy about the foibles of those who love, are in love and are loved. A translation chapter set in Germany is unforgettable and likely to prevent precisely the sort of laughter it inspires, which is to say, you’ll be less inclined to make that mistake.
Greer gets a lot of mileage out of a pretty big cast. The key here is that Greer the writer is crazy in love with all his characters, no matter how sketchily (not very, but) these people behave. The result is that wherever the book lands, we’re happy. And, given that we’re reading a travelogue, Greer’s ability to keep our eyes and his on Arthur Less and his prize (whatever he may decide that to be) is pretty astonishing. There’s more than a bit of Around the World in 80 Days to be found here, but the upshot is not episodic. The tour we are getting is internal as much as it is external.
Whip-smart and wonderful, Less has a mannered, classic feel to it. This is due in part to its clever narrative structure, which proves to be closely tied to plot and character. But it’s also clear that Andrew Sean Greer is having a good time, that he wants to share the joy. And joy, like love, terror and charm, is ineffable. Only in action, only in language is love clear. Immerse yourself in Less and you’re going to find just how moving the ineffable can be.
Given the charm falling off the pages of Less, it takes no stretch of the imagination to guess that Andrew Sean Greer is every bit as charming as the world he creates. Would that his world could be all of ours! Here’s a link to our short-form “lightning round” interview, or just listen below.
But really, the best Rx is to take your time, settle back and listen to Andrew Sean Greer embody the Charm School (it CANNOT be taught) by following this link to download this file, or just listen below.