It’s a Pulitzer fiction prize winner, class of 2018. What is this schmuck going to say about the book that will have any impact on whether you should read it or not? Oh, likely nothing, but these reviews also serve as a way for me to put my immediate thoughts down on a book I finish. They’re a later touchstone for when I want to recall bits and pieces of the literary adventure.
So here’s the thing about Less, that’s the main character’s last name. He’s Arthur Less, a 49 year old author who has a midlife crisis when his lover goes off to marry someone else. He shirks the thought of going to the wedding and instead decides on a trip around the world (who wouldn’t?). The trip takes him on some seriously entertaining locales, like Mexico, Paris, Italy, Morocco, and India. The thing that struck me about each of these stops, he always encounters one or two wholly fleshed out characters, people who drop into the story, make an impact, and then leave as quickly as they came. For instance, while he’s in India, he meets a woman named Rubina, who he describes quite well by saying she looked like the profile of Caesar on a coin. She’s jovial and helpful for much of the chapter, and then she’s gone in a flash never to be seen again. These characters show us different sides of Less, but they also give the story its pace, as each destination holds a new and enchanting character that draws more and more out of Less and his partner.
There’s a reason Andrew Greer won the Pulitzer for this novel. The constant onslaught of timely, well positioned descriptors. “He has always felt insignificant to these men, as superfluous as the extra a in quaalude.” That’s just great. It sets tone, has a double entendre of insinuating that the quaalude would help me get over being insignificant to these men, and it’s, well, funny.
Throughout I was hit by passages like that.
In remembering what it was like to be poor at baseball as a twelve year old, he’s describing being put in right field where there’s no action…
“Nothing has happened in right field all season, which is why he was put there: a kind of athletic Canada.”
Or his description of the coffee maker in the hotel room as a “hungry little mollusk, snapping open its jaws to devour pods and subsequently secreting coffee into a mug.”
Overall the story and plot carried on like a Wes Anderson film. Quirky characters. Odd settings. Being rich. It all fit like that. I wouldn’t be surprised if it got picked up as his next film.
My Goodreads review (the definitive judgement center for all things books) where I gave it a 5 out of 5 stars. I enjoyed it. I’ll probably read it again. I’ll also use it as inspiration for my work — it was that powerful.
Now onto other Pulitzer winners from the last decade. I have a goal.