What I read
A Pulitzer Prize is given “For distinguished fiction published in book form during the year by an American author, preferably dealing with American life.” But I’ve found in the past ten years that the writing is often too … what? … for my taste. Too bleak? Too outre? Too “matter of the moment”?
Andrew Sean Greer’s 2018 winner Less is a breath of fresh air.
And because so much has been written about the travels–and travails–of our hero, the almost-famous writer Arthur Less, and because those reviews provide the critical analysis the novel deserves, I’ll leave you to peruse the Washington Post and The Kenyon Review.
Instead, I’ll tell you why I think Less is a dear good thing:
- Our hero’s experiences and his reactions to life’s twists and turns, while far from my own (Less, after all, is a single gay man turning fifty), remind me that there’s a lot to be said for optimism–even the kind that seems ridiculous in the moment.
- Less is one of the few literary characters of late who doesn’t take himself too seriously.
- His throwaway observations are anything but. Less’s insights are spot-on and guffaw-out-loud at times. Make no mistake–the novel tackles issues that are anything but humorous. Adultery and AIDS and loneliness and aging. But a little bit of wit speaks louder than the longest sermon.
- Arthur Less is endearing. (Does anyone even like Olive Kitteridge or Theo Decker?!)
- I loved this guy, plain and simple. And you can’t ask for more than that.
And this …
- ” ‘What is love, Arthur? … Is it the dear good thing I had with Janet for eight years? Is it the dear good thing? Or is it the lightening bolt? The destructive madness …’ “
- ” ‘Strange to be almost fifty, no? I feel like I just understood how to be young.’
‘Yes! It’s like the last day in a foreign country. You finally figure out how to get coffee, and drinks, and a good steak. And then you have to leave. And you won’t ever be back.’ “
- “We all recognize grief in moments that should be celebrations; it is the salt in the pudding.”
What I lived
It was a good day, last Friday. Sunny. Warm. Spring was in the air, as they say. After bemoaning the fact that, according to our state’s initial estimates, I’d be getting my COVID vaccination in late summer, the supply and distribution picked up pace and I got my shot in the arm. Driving to the pharmacy, I teared up and worried I’d be a blubbering mess when I arrived–but the excitement! the relief! took over and by the time I pulled into the parking space I was grinning from ear-to-ear and couldn’t stop.
I chatted with a couple others in line for their vaccines. Friday was the day the U.S. reached 100,000,000 shots in the arm and we were part of that moment, this little cadre of 60-something retired teachers thrown together by an online scheduling algorithm. Waiting, waiting.
Me: I’ve never been more excited to get a shot. And I hate shots!
Pharmacist: Yeah, this is a fun one to give.
So. The months of shutdown. Weeks of quarantine. Four COVID tests. A loved one’s COVID diagnosis. The days and days of fever and fatigue he lived with. The financial toll it took on my household. The isolation from friends and family and hugs. That huge weight of worry.
That little shot in the arm? It’s definitely a good dear thing.