Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 327
The father of the novel's (undisclosed) narrator, Freddy, remarks that life is "half-comedy and half-tragedy," and in some ways, Andrew Sean Greer's 2017 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Less is much the same. The ostensible tragedy is the self-defeating attitude of the protagonist, Arthur Less, a middle-aged homosexual writer who has met with only mediocre success in the literary industry. The comedy results from the events that transpire within the novel, which involve Arthur traveling to several countries (including France, Morocco, Mexico, India, and Japan) on various quasi-professional ventures. He attends miscellaneous literary conferences and awards receptions, none of which he considers especially prestigious.
In addition to the insecure and unlucky-in-love protagonist, the characters include his former lover of nine years, Freddy. Freddy is described as "dreamy, simple, lusty, bookish, harmless, youthful," and is something of an Adonis for Less. The novel's surprise ending reveals Freddy to be the narrator.
Freddy's father, Carlos, is a minor but pronounced figure in Less. He is inimical to Arthur for the majority of the novel, but Arthur makes amends with him by the novel's close. He is a shrewd, judgmental, but profound man who reconciles with Arthur, and whom Arthur in turn grows to respect.
Finally, Robert Brownburn (whose name is not coincidentally reminiscent of Robert Browning) is Arthur Less' former lover. In one chapter, one of the literary conferences to which Arthur is invited reveals its primary aim to be to hear from Arthur on what it was like to live with such an accomplished writer. Robert is twenty years Arthur's senior, and is a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet. Less reminisces on his relationship with Robert on several occasions during the novel. He considers Robert a genius, but his own inadequacies owe in large part to Robert's apparent superiority to Arthur in literary circles. Having lived in Robert's shadow during this early relationship makes Less feel as though his name is a self-fulfilling prophecy, stipulating that he will always achieve "less" than Robert.
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