“I’m just a kid who happened to win the Pulitzer”

“I’m just a kid who happened to win the Pulitzer”

“I can’t do the same trick twice, so with my new book I haven’t even tried it” (Kailel Robert)

This, “says Andrew Sean Greer, pointing over his shoulder, with his index finger outstretched,” is my new book. “He turns to pick up the American version of his new novel, Less is lostthe sequel to his 2017 world bestseller, Less. “See,” she adds, holding it up, “it’s gold.” Clearly, when an author receives an extravagant award like the Pulitzer … Less won it in 2018: Publishers have the budget to be as imaginative as they want for their follow-up. It glitters as Greer turns it this way and that. “Nice, huh?”

The pride he feels is well deserved: Greer had already spent two decades as a well-reviewed but never entirely bestselling author who had occasion to ask himself, at times, “if I would ever publish another book again.” He points this out Less had a hard time finding a home and was turned down by 12 UK publishers before one finally got a pound. It’s hard to believe, because it was a far-fetched book. It told the story of an unfortunate middle-aged gay writer, Arthur Less, who eagerly accepted invitations to any literary event around the world in hopes of escaping the complications of his inner life. “Finally, a comic novel gets a Pulitzer Prize. It was time, “he continued The Washington Post title that brings back Greer’s victory. Possessing a certain melancholy, Less it was a serious novel that made people laugh, in turn witty and lyrical, gently piercing the absurdities and artifices of the literary world. Armistead Maupin, Dave Eggers, and Ann Patchett are among her fans, and John Updike was thrilled with Greer’s early novels.

“Comic novels don’t normally win Pulitzer,” he points out, “and so why mine won is, fortunately, a question I never have to answer. But I have heard readers from all over the world tell me that they have had such joy in reading my book, which was great. ” Suddenly, he is frowning. “I should warn those readers now that I can’t do the same trick twice, so with my new book I haven’t even tried.”

This is patently not true – in many ways, Less is lost it’s more or less the same book, or at least a direct continuation, told in the same funny way. Following up on a blockbuster novel with a sequel is clearly reckless behavior, and there’s an unwritten law that suggests you shouldn’t even try it, yet here Greer did just that. He’s not the only one, though: Jennifer Egan recently released a sequel to her Pulitzer winner, A visit from the Goon Squadwith a little underwhelming The candy housewhile Elizabeth Strout, one of America’s most admired writers, continues to return to her fictional character Lucy Barton, whose third installment, Lucia to the seait will be published next month and may be Strout’s best book.

However, the sequel remains a problematic experiment. In Less is lost, life for Arthur Less – still the eternal mid-range writer – actually looks pretty good. The job is fine, he has just been asked to judge a prestigious literary award and is happily in love with a younger man, Freddy, who tells the book with an omniscience that belies the fact that much of the narrative takes place. distant from him. Freddy is absent from the plot because a sudden financial crisis requires Less to embark on another journey, this one through the United States. His journey is both problematic and farcical. As a gay walking into a bar in Alabama, he’s looking for trouble and growing a handlebar mustache doesn’t exactly allow him to go undercover. He is tasked with taking care of the panting dog of a cantankerous older writer and struggles to keep control of an RV nicknamed Rosina. From time to time, he is mistaken for a Dutchman; other times for another writer of the same name, except that the other Arthur Less appears to be Black. Ultimately, Less has a hard time fitting in everywhere.

“He joined a gym that turned out to be a sex dungeon,” Freddy tells us at one point. “He has joined a political party that has turned out to believe a conspiracy theory about government health clinics. He joined a sex prison that turned out to be a government health clinic. It was all so confusing. “

“My agent told me specifically Not to write a sequel, ”says Greer. “So in the beginning I started another book entirely, a kind of American Don chisciotte. I planned everything, went to a writers’ retreat and wrote 100 pages, but it was terrible: I couldn’t find my way through the story, I couldn’t make the characters work. “

And so he discarded it, and returned to two characters he was already particularly fond of: Arthur and Freddy. “At first I was worried, but then [the writer] Michael Chabon told me I should write what I wanted, and so I did.

“Besides,” he adds, “I still don’t feel like this important and award-winning author. I’m just a guy who happened to win the Pulitzer, that’s all. “

Greer, 51, was born and raised in Maryland, and is currently splitting his time between San Francisco and Milan, where he lives with his Italian partner, “about 30 minutes from the cathedral.” He became a writer, he suggests, because he wasn’t capable of anything else. “I wasn’t smart enough for academia, or good enough to be a writer for TV or magazines. I don’t even think I’m a particularly good storyteller, but me to have he studied fiction. I too am a sensitive person. I pay attention to the world around me, which is painful at times, but as a writer it helps because I can then write what other people don’t notice. “

'Less is Lost' is told in the same playful way as Pulitzer winner 'Less' (Little Brown)

‘Less is Lost’ is told in the same playful way as Pulitzer winner ‘Less’ (Little Brown)

His novels have always been praised by critics, and at least two of his previous catalog were particularly good: 2004 The confessions of Max Tivoliwhich reads as a Victorian equivalent of Benjamin Button’s story about an aging man in reverse, and that of 2008 The story of a wedding, a forensic look at a husband and wife whose union is constantly being torn apart. Regardless of how well he writes, however, he finds the actual process a perpetual struggle. “I would have started a book thinking I was going to write an 800-page epic, but then, after 300 pages, I would have had to cut 250,” he says. “If you ask my partner, who was with me during the pandemic while I was writing Less is lostwould say that yes, there is always A lot of the drama when I write ”.

Friends told him it was only when he created the character of Arthur Less, seen through the lens of his lover Freddy, that they recognized Greer’s true voice on the page. “It’s me, I guess,” he shrugs. He says he wrote both books as a reaction to Trump’s 2016 election victory. “I wanted to write about America that I no longer understood, and I wanted to write about the horror in the heart of my country. “

But he does it with bubbly humor. How come?

“I didn’t want to be bad and I don’t think I could have done it seriously. I’m too sentimental; I know my weaknesses. The way I deal with anxiety is to find the humor in it, to be funny. “

And in this way he finally found a large readership, no longer in the half list. The success allowed Greer to relax a little, to open up, but not quite to gloat, not yet. It’s only a big deal in a very small world, she insists. “If in Italy I tell people that I am a writer, their eyes light up, they tell me that the police will not pay me a ticket if I am stopped. But in America, it’s not the center of culture. People’s eyes cloud over, even though I say I won the Pulitzer. It’s like you’ve won a burger or something. “

However, the recognition made him happy and confident. He appreciates it.

“It’s good to know that I can pay the rent now, and it’s good that my anxieties have subsided a little bit,” she says. “From now on, I hope, it will be a fun trip.”

“Less Is Lost” is released on September 22nd

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