... a touching, hilarious narrative that works both as a follow-up to Greer’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Less and as an introduction to an unforgettable character for those who haven’t read about Arthur Less before. Poignant, smart and funny, the mix of elements Greer brings to the table here makes this an outstanding book that’s part road trip, part love story and part keen observation of contemporary America ... While the story is told by Less’ partner Freddy — a literary tactic that works surprisingly well and serves to pull readers into the story time and time again as Freddy addresses the reader directly — Arthur Less is the heart and soul of this novel ... Greer is a very talented storyteller, and there are shining lines in Less is Lost that dip their toes in poetry ... perfectly balanced; sad and joyful, honest and hilarious, wonderfully strange and very real. Greer is a great chronicler of our times, and his vision of America celebrates the best of it while also showing its dark side, and that makes this novel required reading.
... technically accomplished, wildly entertaining ... Like its predecessor, the new novel is a feat of wit and brio, tougher than it looks ... From his New England perch, Freddy narrates hilarious, cinematic scenes that include affectionate if campy portraits of Arthur ... Greer's a master of the picaresque, deftly moving his protagonist from a seedy, David Lynch-esque desert bar through the flatlands of Texas to a Southern theater troupe ... Greer's wordplay is glorious: He drop-shots puns and ripostes, firing up his prose ... Greer is not only winking at the reader, he's winking at himself. Although an agile stylist, he's captivated by the cadences of his own voice, the web of Less' relationships, and an unpersuasive reckoning ... The author's gifts are manifold, though, and Less Is Lost finds its path, holding tight to a Kerouac-like exuberance even as Less falls short of the enlightenment he seeks. And despite the novel's self-conscious moments, Greer bears down on his character's quest with a command of craft second to none. Will love conquer all? As Freddy notes, 'Well, reader, I will simply let you guess.'
Mandern is a kook and probably a hack, but inconveniences and contrivances power the plot ... As Less wends from California to Arizona through Texas to Georgia and then up the Eastern Seaboard, an American odyssey to complement his previous, global jaunt, Lost begins to feel more like found — as in: the earlier book, turned up like an old favorite on the bookshelf of a much-visited inn. For its many admirers, that may be selling point enough. But it’s the rare sequel that outstrips its original, and it’s hard not to feel that Less Is Lost, like Rosina, is running on fumes. Greer leans harder into caricature this time around, more yokel than local. Some jokes, like Less’s imperfect German, are repeated wholesale. (He certainly lucks into having to use it often enough.) There are high jinks and potboiling fifth-act surprises, theater troupers and clothing-optional communards, set pieces twinkling in the Lessian light of a 'beaver moon' ... And yet through it all, Less Is Lost is enlivened by sentence-level loveliness, en route to a warm humanism that veers toward the maudlin but mostly doesn’t off-road into it ... Less has given Greer fertile ground, and he reaps what he’s sown. A mixed blessing, it seems. For all the fixation on Less, it is actually Freddy who is our narrator and guide, Freddy whose voice we actually hear.
Andrew Sean Greer’s new novel performs an astonishing magic trick: It makes you forget the state of the world—or, more specifically, America ... Writers may take special pleasure in Less Is Lost for the way it holds a mirror to the unique humiliations of their vocation ... With the wit and warmth that made readers fall in love with Less, Greer can find the absurd in everything ... What made Less such a deep joy to read was the voice—a playful almost-omniscience that occasionally shifted to reveal a mysterious first-person who looked upon Less with unmistakable fondness. That narrative voice resumes seamlessly in Less Is Lost ... Less Is Lost is a love story, but it’s also about how we make art—which is to say, how we make meaning.
Freddy manages to douse his skepticism in the name of love, but this reader had a harder time. San Francisco is among the most expensive rental markets in the country; the man needs a MacArthur grant, not a magazine assignment ... typical of Greer’s best comic writing, with its exquisite attention to rhythm, repetition, and timing, the bright sentences tossed up like juggling balls to be caught in dazzling rotation ... Where Greer runs into trouble is in his attempt to use Less’s trip to gesture at the state of the Union writ large ... Critiquing the American experiment has become something of a trope in the current political climate, but, though Greer’s novel is set in the approximate present, his America is a land curiously devoid of politics. Less manages to drive three thousand miles without coming across so much as a single MAGA hat; there seems to have been no major public-health crisis since AIDS ... Greer, though, has a gentler sensibility. He wants to see the best in people, and that rare instinct puts him in a bind. How to confront the madness, let alone the viciousness, the violence, the cruelty, of the moment while maintaining the kind of comic equipoise that he prizes? ... These appliqué indictments have the awkward feel of authorial preëmption; it’s as if Greer felt the need to make a show of taking his character to task for being categorically 'problematic.' Perhaps to compensate, he saddles Less with emotional baggage (a dead mother, a long-absent father) that hints at painful depths without really creating them. These are 'Swift'-ian touches, and they work no better in Greer’s novel than they evidently did in Less’s ... That rawer, truer vein of feeling gives the novel back its heart. If Less Is Lost is, well, a lesser work than “Less,” there’s something sincerely winning in Greer’s undogmatic brand of small-c conservatism ... No one’s private world is shielded from national storms, but often enough the sun does shine there. We need some novels to remind us of that, and this is one.
... if Greer is just reapplying the Less formula — insecure, weak-selling, whirlwind trip, etc. — it’s one that allows for plenty of invention and flexibility ... Sad conversation he has, often. Shy he is — entertainingly so. But the truly remarkable thing about Less winning the Pulitzer isn’t that it’s a comedy; it is that, at heart, it’s a romance, a genre that faces an even rougher road with prize juries. All the globetrotting in Less set a path toward a happily ever after. A similar story is at play in Less Is Lost, as Arthur wends his way from San Francisco to Maine, where his beloved, Freddy, is teaching ... What makes his novels funny is Greer’s understanding of how absurdly writers will contort their psyches to feel like they count, like they’re loved. (That’s why it’s better that Less himself isn’t the narrator; it would read as crushingly heartsick, if not a tick mad.) These contortions are also what make the books poignant. The tricky part is balancing the two modes via tone, style and plot. Greer’s task is to ground the absurdity in tenderheartedness without being cute or cloying. In that regard, he masters both — the embarrassing moment but also the gentle grace note.
... [a] slighter but equally charming sequel ... a sequel for those who are already sold, referencing and reprising what made the original so winning. There’s slightly less on the minor humiliations of the ‘Minor American Novelist’, which I think is wise, avoiding the in-jokiness of anecdotes about readings and author Q and As. Instead, Arthur mainly stumbles into more relatable, if esoteric, mishaps ... Greer does beautifully what Arthur’s poet lover exhorted him to do: ‘pay attention’. His magpie eye alights on sparkling road trip non-sequiturs ... If you read with the same quality of attention with which Greer writes you’re rewarded: he tucks away references and repeat phrases like Easter eggs for the careful reader. Is it bad form to mention a twist? Apologies if so, but on rereading I realise something surprising was slyly, subtly signposted ... Mainly, though, it’s huge fun. Greer’s delight in language and the comedy of incongruity is infectious ... Pain and slapstick cohabit, as they do everywhere and always ... I suspect Greer isn’t done with his creation (Less’s mother’s story looms, like Chekhov’s gun); I hope not.
... the novel is narrated from the point of view of the latter, which lends a tender poignancy ... Much of the humour is of the fish-out-of-water variety ... has something of the homely charm of a corny old sitcom. It is smartly written, with some amusing descriptions and touching epiphanies ... His brand of agreeable helplessness — wallowing in self-pity while just about keeping us on side with wry wit — recalls the plaintive laconicism of the American humourist David Sedaris ... Greer’s narrator pays sentimental tribute to the improbable but enduring wholeness of the United States, likening it to an awkward marriage of convenience. And yet the charge of myopia still stands, because this is a picture-postcard America, whose true historic destiny is to provide a scenic backdrop to one man’s personal therapeutic journey.
I wouldn’t say a double dose of Less’s literary peregrinations ruined my summer holiday. But the experience of reading Greer’s prose was not unlike watching my friend laugh at it. I just didn’t get what was so funny. Nor was I charmed by the clueless protagonist, a man who believes he is 'the first homosexual ever to grow old' but who in literary terms is 'as superfluous as the extra a in quaalude' ... As with Less, this voyage of contrived epiphanies is narrated in the putative present by the hero’s younger on-off boyfriend ... even when we learn about Less being abandoned in childhood, the melancholy of the novel never feels quite traced to its source ... The problem is that the hero is much less than the sum of his parts: one part Peter Pan, one part Vladimir Nabokov’s Pnin, one part John Updike’s Henry Bech and a dash of Bertie Wooster. It sounds winsome and fun. It ends up mannered and self-satisfied (a common strain in North American liberal humour, I find: see also, Sedaris, Patrick deWitt, the bits of the New Yorker that set out to be funny). The more Pelu instructed me to Look at Arthur Less, the less I could make him out. Our hero’s idiocy – rooted in his incuriosity about other humans – might be funnier were it conveyed with the primal innocence of a Wooster, or told by a more neutral narrator. But from the perspective of an indulgent lover, it’s too self-conscious, too cute – and the constant entreaties let too much daylight in on the comedy. As if dawningly aware of this, Greer threads in a narrative about Less unwittingly stealing opportunities that should have gone to a Black writer and his namesake. But it feels tacked on; a message about white male privilege in order to justify reprising his hero ... As a gentle literary satire, Less Is Lost sometimes hits the mark...But the good gags end up buried under all the pointless pratfalls and improbable pickles. It’s like opening an overstuffed suitcase to find there’s little here you really need.
Is Less Is Lost as good, as funny, as poignant as its predecessor? To which I would happily answer: Yes, at least! ... There are extended comic passages here about Less' Walloon ancestry and a mediocre gay men's chorus singing Leonard Cohen songs that I read aloud, laughing, to anyone I could waylay. But comedy also arises out of pain and Greer smoothly transitions into the profound ... Greer has said in interviews that this sequel is the end of Less. That would be a shame. Greer should add even more to Less' saga and take him as far as he can go.
The novel has one exquisite line after another ... more than just a gorgeously written sequel. It's also a perceptive observer's entertaining assessment of whether a breakup of the American nuptials is imminent.
The star is the narrator, Freddy, whose wry, loving perspective means Less’ quirky antics are always grounded in some seemingly fathomable logic. Full of riotously funny scenes—particularly around Less’ overconfidence in his German-speaking abilities—this is a worthy follow-up to the magnificent and much-lauded Less, and it is a joy to once again accompany Arthur on his travels.
Greer writes with an offbeat, gentle humor, and his narrative, in the voice of the somewhat enigmatic Freddy, is peppered throughout with well-observed irony and occasional profundity. Arthur Less himself, no doubt, would be stymied at the prospect of following up the success of a Pulitzer, but Greer clearly is made of sterner stuff than his fictional creation. And if Less Is Lost lacks some of the snap of the prizewinner, it admirably transports eager readers into the world of Arthur and Freddy with tenderness and wit.
... in clumsier hands, the episodic humiliations of Less, 'this slapstick, ridiculous, zigzagging queer,' might quickly pall ... But Greer’s thirst for the nomad’s landscape remains undimmed...And his scene-setting touch is as funny and economical as ever, whether it’s the California columbarium with the see-through nooks or the Maine inn run by the oldest living whaler’s widow or the Alabama roadside bar where an ominous man in an eye patch breaks into karaoke ... To be sure, it’s a curious sort of America our hero traverses. No Trump signs, no MAGA hats. No election deniers, no anti-vaxxers, no covid against which to be vaxxed. And while there’s a splendidly tense sequence of a Black tour guide educating her writhing audience in the realities of sharecropping, I think Greer knows that his gifts, like those of the British comic novelists he clearly admires, flourish best in ahistoric climes. The people and places rising up through Less Is Lost could be transported back or forward a few decades without too much trouble and without losing any of their crisp outlines. Spend enough time in their company and you may fall back on the adage that the journey is as important as the destination.
Sketches of sticky dive bars overseen by quick-witted bartenders allow Greer to send up Less’s self-conscious metropolitan sensibilities. In tandem with these screwball high jinks, the novel consistently evokes Less’s insecurities about his literary talents, as well as Freddy’s misgivings about his often solipsistic lover. Like its predecessor, then, Less Is Lost combines poignancy in Less’s personal life with gags to keep us entertained...Given the similarities, the reader might justifiably wonder: why resuscitate Less? ... this interrogation of Americanness and speculation about where the country might go next feel tepid and incomplete. Greer’s narrative never comes close to answering Palu’s weighty question; romcom kookiness wins out in the end. Of course, an indeterminate rather than shouty evaluation of the current nature of the American project has its place in an ostensibly lighthearted novel. But it seems that in Greer’s desire to offer both levity and political profundity, something was lost indeed.
Absurdity and playfulness are the crowd-pleasing hallmarks ... While an acidic wit in the vein of David Sedaris is ever present, Greer’s attention to the sublimity of the changing landscape introduces softer notes ... Like its predecessor, then, Less Is Lost combines poignancy in Less’s personal life with gags to keep us entertained ... Greer’s attempts to give his sequel distinction largely rest on an intermittent inquiry into the state of the nation, and the confounding brutality of the distant and recent past...The anxieties prompted by Less’s acknowledgment that later life stretches before him like the California deserts he traverses are matched by Greer’s anxieties about what lies in store for the United States in its post-Trumpian, Biden-era malaise ... But this interrogation of Americanness and speculation about where the country might go next feel tepid and incomplete. Greer’s narrative never comes close to answering Palu’s weighty question; romcom kookiness wins out in the end. Of course, an indeterminate rather than shouty evaluation of the current nature of the American project has its place in an ostensibly lighthearted novel. But it seems that in Greer’s desire to offer both levity and political profundity, something was lost indeed.
...his misfortunes are not as engaging the second time round. In the first place, there is considerably less at stake ... One longs for the bite that Edward St. Aubyn brought to the subject in his 2014 novel Lost for Words. Likewise, several of Greer's stylistic tics are labored ... The novel's saving grace is its comedy, both of character and language ... Greer's whimsically Wodehousian metaphors are as delightful as ever.
It feels churlish to dislike this book, which deploys all the tropes and tricks and brings back many of the characters that won its predecessor, Less, the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2018 ... Greer does sometimes write beautifully about life and about fiction ... If you loved the first one, you might love this, though it is a bit less fresh and a tad slow.