I promised myself I could read Andrew Sean Greer’s Less as a reward for getting through New York Comic-Con, and it took me an extra month but I’ve finally gotten to it! It’s as funny as I hoped it would be, but it’s also not afraid to be tenderhearted, and Greer makes some life observations that are simply fantastic.
Here’s one of my favorite passages:
…he looks out at the city: the Empire State Building, twenty blocks down, is echoed, below, by an Empire Diner with a card stock sign: PASTRAMI. From the other window, near Central Park, he sees the sign for the Hotel New Yorker. They are not kidding, no sir. No more than the New England inns called the Minuteman and the Tricorner are kidding, with their colonial cupolas topped with wrought iron weather vanes, their cannonball pyramids out front, or the Maine lobster pounds called the Nor’easter, hung with traps and glass buoys, are kidding, or the moss-festooned restaurants in Savannah, or the Western Grizzly Dry Goods, or the Florida Gator This and Gator That, or even the Californian Surfboard Sandwiches and Cable Car Cafes and Fog City Inn, are kidding. Nobody is kidding. They are dead serious. People think of Americans as easygoing, but in fact they are all dead serious, especially about their local culture; they name their bars “saloons” and their shops “Ye Olde”; they wear the colors of the local high school team; they are Famous For Their Pies. Even in New York City.
It’s pretty rare for a comic novel to win a Pulitzer—there are comic elements in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, but I’d argue that both of them find the foundations of their stories in tragedy. The only other novel that I think could be called truly comic is A Confederacy of Dunces, which is also shot through with sadness, but it’s a smaller, human-scale sadness, not the genocide that shatters the lives of the de Leons and the Kavalieris.
I might be slightly invested in the reception of novels that aim for comedy, since Manifolds (if it works) is a skewed comic campus novel, and As-Yet-Untitled Novel #2 will probably be comic-picaresque-historical-theological-fiction.