How Andrew Sean Greer turned a lost cause into one of his best novels


Throughout his career, Andrew Sean Greer has written serious novels. “The Confessions of Max Tivoli,” his 2004 breakthrough, imagined a man, born old, who ages backward. In 2013’s “The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells,” his title character lives three versions of her life.

Now Greer has done something completely unexpected: He’s written a comic novel.

“Less” (Little Brown, $26, 272 pages) is so funny, it’s hard to believe it started as a drama — “a sort of poignant, wistful novel,” says the author,” about a middle-aged man who walks across San Francisco, reflecting on his life and loves.

Today, Greer admits it didn’t work. “I just couldn’t feel sorry for him,” he says. “It wasn’t tragic.”

Rather than abandon the book, Greer flipped it, making his protagonist a Job-like character for whom, if anything can go wrong, it probably will. The result is a witty, brilliant tour de force — Greer’s finest work to date.

“Less” is San Francisco author Andrew Sean Greer’s first comic novel, revolving around a writer facing a midlife crisis. JOSE CARLOS FAJARDO/STAFF

Talking about “Less” recently over iced tea, Greer, 46, said the story took its own path. “The hardest part for me is finding a way into the novel,” he said. “It can take a year. Once I find it, it feels inevitable. With this one, it took a while — then it was the only way to write it.”

“Less” is the story of Arthur Less, a gay San Francisco novelist who is experiencing a midlife crisis. His 50th birthday is fast approaching. His literary reputation is fading. Worst of all, his younger boyfriend has decided to marry someone else — and Arthur is invited to the wedding.

Rather than endure the humiliation, Arthur accepts a stack of invitations to author events around the world. As he travels to readings, festivals and awards ceremonies in New York, Mexico, Paris, Berlin, Morocco, India and Japan, the mishaps pile up like literary rejects in a second-hand bookstore.

Surprisingly, Greer says that travel wasn’t part of the original story. “But I was traveling, and I was alone, so I just took notes,” he says. “When I’d come back, I’d tell my friends, and it was funny. It was so much fun, I got rid of the main story and invented a new plot.”

It’s not that Greer didn’t feel sympathy for Arthur. “Every writer is an outsider,” says the author, who lives in San Francisco’s Lower

Source:: The Mercury News – Lifestyle

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