What does it take to win a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, Genius? Luck? Heck if I know. This past month it was my turn to pick the next novel in a book club, so I chose Less by Andrew Sean Greer, the Pulitzer prizing winning novel for fiction in 2018. Fre
How do win a Pulitzer?
Reading Less isn’t going to give you the answer. I have no idea what the committee of high brow intellectuals uses to award the prize. But here’s what I can surmise…they choose stories that try to illustrate the human condition. Less is an examination of love; a nostalgia of love had and lost. Arthur Less is about to turn fifty and his ex, Freddy, is about to be married. So he does what any other normal human would do-anything and everything to get your mind off these two events that you are helpless to stop. Thus, Less accepts every invitation he has received (readings, prizes, teaching, etc.) to travel around the world in a futile attempt to escape. He will travel to New York, Italy, France, Germany, Morocco, and India, all to try to forget Freddy, to lament his age, and to come to terms that he may never be loved by anyone ever again.
The problem with trying to escape, is that for as much as want we can’t escape our brains. So throughout the novel and his travels he remembers his past loves, he remembers his time with Freddy. The book reviews call it a romantic comedy, but I didn’t find that much funny about it. Sure I chuckled here and there, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t like it. Because Arthur Less is me. Yeah okay, sure, I’m not a fifty-year old gay man who has written novels that win awards and nor have I had two great loves: but I, and probably many others, walk around every day asking ourselves, is this what we want from life? is this who we are meant to love? will someone love me? Will this person always love me? Does he love me? Is this my life? Is my life complete without love? Can I live without it?
And the answers, well the answers are subjective. Arthur’s problem is that he’s so wrapped in his self-pity he doesn’t see how great his life really is. He’s told this multiple times throughout the novel. Mr. Greer’s use of the past and the present to give us a picture of Arthur’s life is a technique that perfectly illustrates how certain smells, people, sites, and sounds transport us to the past, when we remember happier or sadder times. And how we try to understand how all those past decisions bring us to where we are standing at present. Would we change anything? Would we do it different? To be happier? Do we regret what has brought us to this very moment?
So I know why they chose it. Because it is beautiful and it is unflinchingly and unabashedly human. What do you want the book asks you? What do you want and what will you do to get it? Is happiness worth it? Is love worth it?
Mr. Greer thinks it is. And so did ….. Well, you’ll see who.