Less, by Andrew Sean Greer

I did not know who Andrew Sean Greer was until I heard he’d won this year’s Pulitzer prize for fiction, and I continued to not know him and his sixth novel Less until I heard him read an excerpt in the New Yorker Radio Hour.  That was it; I was sold.  That short story was about Arthur Less, a nonfamous writer invited to Turin, Italy, by a minor literary prize, and it ran from one hilarious moment to the next.  Greer is one of these incredibly blessed people who just write funny.  Like how he describes the airplane lunch: “Tuscan chicken (whose ravishing name reveals itself, like an internet lover, to be mere chicken and mashed potatoes)”.

There are two things about Less that bear mentioning on a craft level (because they are absolutely crafty in the best sense of the word):

1) Greer sprinkles flashbacks judiciously throughout this novel, and he’s quite deft in the way he sneaks them in.  Example: in the last chapter, there’s this part: “…he sees a few people waiting on the dock, and among them — he recognizes her through her clear umbrella — is his mother.”  It’s not his mother, of course; rather, it’s a woman who is wearing a very similar scarf.  But this moment of misrecognition gives the reader the perfect way into this memory.

2) This novel is narrated by an unnamed character, one who acts in an omniscient manner about 95% of the time, but then there are these startling confessional first-person moments.  It’s so smart — Greer gets to have his cake and eat it, too, because he has the flexibility to play god and go wherever he wants, whenever he wants, and yet he also preserves the closeness of the first-person narrator when he wants to deliver an extra helping of heart.

This is just a wonderful novel, gentle and loving and funny and sad.  Unlike many literary novels, things actually happen in this book, lots of things, tons of things.  It is, after all, a travelogue of sorts, with Less jumping from country to country, continent to continent, to avoid his former lover’s wedding and his impending 50th birthday, so there’s serious propulsion in the narrative.

The writer Greer reminded me most was another favorite of mine, Brian Morton.  Fans of Starting Out in the Evening or A Window Across the River will find a great friend in Less.  I can’t wait to read the rest of Greer’s fiction.

Modern Love Podcast 102

credit: Michael Buckner/Deadline; Brian Rea/The New York Times/WBUR

Folks, this is one of the most amazing things that’s ever happened to me.  The Oscar-nominated duo behind last year’s film The Big Sick, Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon, teamed up to perform my New York Times Modern Love essay.  It’s this week’s episode, which is doubly special because it’s Valentine’s Day!

Here’s the podcast!!!

Much thanks to the great people at WBUR (where Modern Love the Podcast is made), especially Caitlin O’Keefe who was gracious and patient as I prattled on during our interview.  Also thanks to WBGO for hosting me and providing crystal-clear communication between Newark and Boston.  Huge thanks to Dan Jones and The New York Times for publishing my essay in the first place.

Lastly, thank you to my wife Dawn and my mother, who provided the fodder for my essay. 🙂

Favorite Songs of 2017

It’s still January, so not too egregiously late: Here’s a list of my top songs for this year, in an order that might be surprisingly mixable. These are not necessarily from 2017; I just happened to have heard them in the last twelve months.

Paris, by The Chainsmokers on Memories…Do Not Open
On Hold, by The xx on I See You
Should’ve Been You, by Imelda May on Life Love Flesh Blood
Castle on the Hill, by Ed Sheeran on Divide
Want You Back, by HAIM on Something to Tell You
Ride, by Twenty One Pilots on Blurryface
Cleopatra, by The Lumineers on Cleopatra
Fault Line, by Michelle Branch on Hopeless Romantic
Walk on, by Overcoats on YOUNG
Liability, by Lorde on Melodrama
Making Love Out of Nothing at All, by Air Supply on Definitive Collection
New York, by St. Vincent on MASSEDUCTION
Beautiful Trauma, by Pink on Beautiful Trauma
Love Me Like You Do, by Ellie Goulding on Delirium
Sign of the Times, by Harry Styles on Harry Styles
The Industry, by Okkervil River on Away
Don’t Take the Money, by Bleachers on Gone Now
White Flag, by Joseph on I’m Alone, No You’re Not
Ordinary World, by Green Day on Revolution Radio
Tachycardia, by Conor Oberst on Ruminations
Apocalypse, by Cigarettes After Sex on Cigarettes After Sex

I don’t know if any one particular song stands out here — maybe Lorde’s “Liability”?  Or perhaps The xx’s “On Hold.”  Let’s just call it a tie, because they’re both wonderful.

Essay in The New York Times: The Unexpected Branch on the Family Tree

I just realized that I neglected to put this on my blog, so now the circle is complete.  I must say, I love this artwork — I have a feeling Giselle Potter found a headshot of mine on the internet, which explains my long hair, but how in the world did she nail my mother’s likeness?  Giselle, you are amazing.