40 pages 1 hour read

Andrew Sean Greer

Less Is Lost

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2022

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Summary and Study Guide


Less Is Lost by Andrew Sean Greer is the second novel about blundering protagonist Arthur Less. The novel is an epilogue to Greer’s Pulitzer-prize winning novel Less (2017). In Less, Arthur escapes Freddy’s impending wedding by going on a topsy-turvy European tour. Freddy tracks him down and reunites with Arthur, dumping his fiancé and getting back together with Arthur.

Published in 2022, Less Is Lost is a comedic novel of literary fiction that draws on LGBTQ+ issues, American travel writing, and odysseys. The story is about Arthur Less but told through the perspective of Arthur’s boyfriend, Freddy Pelu. The narrative voice is Pelu’s first-person but simultaneously omniscient; it sees both Arthur’s journey and intuits his feelings. Through this perspective, Greer explores and subverts how stories are told through the eyes of the people who love and understand us most.

This guide uses the 2022, Little, Brown Book Group edition of Less Is Lost.

Plot Summary

Arthur Less and Freddy Pelu are a couple living in San Francisco. Arthur has recently enjoyed some minor literary acclaim, but his luck runs out with the death of his ex-boyfriend, the great poet Robert Brownburn. For years, Arthur has been living in Robert’s shack, and with his passing comes a big bill of back rent. Arthur must pay or be evicted. While Freddy is in Maine for a fiction course, waiting for Arthur to visit, Arthur must take on enough jobs to pay back the rent and save their home. This brings Arthur on a surprising tour of the United States.

In Part 2, “Southwest,” Arthur travels to Palm Springs, then to New Mexico in a campervan with the famous author H.H.H. Mandern and Mandern’s dog Dolly. Arthur is to write a profile on Mandern and drive him to an event in Santa Fe. Along the way, the notoriously cantankerous and unpredictable Mandern forces Arthur to stop in absurd locations as Mandern searches for his daughter to make amends.

Their first stop is in a hippie commune, where Arthur accidentally gets high and floods the commune by tampering with the pipe system. Arthur is expelled from the commune but retains the philosophy he learns there: “Know no no” (45). They finally find Mandern’s daughter in the canyon of a Navajo reservation. Mandern’s desire to reunite with her reminds Arthur of his fractured relationship with his father, Lawrence. Arthur’s mother is dead, and Lawrence left the family when Arthur was a little boy. He was on the run from the law for a Ponzi scheme, and Arthur hasn’t heard from him in decades. Arthur’s sister Rebecca calls to let him know that she’s received a phone call from Lawrence, and shortly after he sends Arthur a text. He says he’s looking forward to seeing Arthur in the South, where a theater troupe is staging a tour of an adaptation of Arthur’s short story. Arthur also receives notice that a mysterious benefactor has added enormous funding for the adaptation, leading Arthur to believe that his father is the mystery financier.

As he travels with Mandern, Arthur is struck by how many people ask him if he’s from Europe, which he interprets as a veiled question about whether he is gay. While he drives from Mandern to Santa Fe, Arthur is plagued by questions about his sexuality, his lost father, and his financial worries. Arthur also quickly loses touch with Freddy and misses many meetings for a literary prize committee for which he is among the jury. Arthur makes it to Santa Fe and completes his profile on Mandern. Mandern gives him the camper van and Dolly to take on the next leg of his adventure.

In Part 3, “Southeast,” Arthur drives through Alabama, Georgia, and the Carolinas with the theater troupe. He is moved by their sensitive adaptation of his short story, which is a thinly veiled autobiographical depiction of his childhood and absent father. At every performance, Arthur looks out for Lawrence and considers himself a fool for hoping. Arthur is worried about the people in the region being unkind to gay people; he shaves his face down to a handlebar moustache and buys clothes he believes will help him pass as straight. In the rural bars Arthur visits, he only finds people who are kind to him or indifferent—and all whom note his sexuality in spite of his disguise. Freddy informs him that he's moving to an off-the-grid island off the coast of Maine to work on a writing project, and Arthur worries deeply about their relationship. Freddy tells Arthur that something needs to change.

Arthur is finally reunited with his father, who has been living with a wealthy woman named Wanda. After the last performance of Arthur’s short story, a stranger comes to pick up Dolly for Mandern. Arthur is handed a check from his mysterious benefactor, but he leaves before he can meet them. It’s clear now that it’s not his father. Arthur tries to stay with his father for the night, but his camper van, called Rosina, is not allowed on Wanda’s island. Arthur and his father say goodbye. Lawrence is dying from stage four cancer and says that it’s time for forgiveness. Bizarrely, Lawrence tells Arthur that he forgives him. Arthur is forced to camp out in his van alone during an intense hurricane.

In Part 4, “Sunrise,” the narrative switches to Freddy’s experiences. He loves Arthur but questions long-term monogamous relationships. He finds it difficult sometimes to live with someone whose creative genius overtakes their living situation, a dynamic that Arthur compares to his relationship with his ex, the poet Robert Brownburn. Freddy wants his own adventures; he takes his long-desired train ride across the United States. Meanwhile, Arthur travels to his hometown in Delaware, where his sister still lives. He’s to start a lecture series tour that will enable him to save the shack. In Delaware, he discovers that a mistake has been made. The lecture tour is actually for another Arthur Less, a Black gay author who Arthur has heard of before but never met. It turns out that the check from the mysterious benefactor was from a Black organization, meant for the other Arthur Less. Arthur gives up the check and realizes he won’t be able to save the shack. He also finds out he’s been kicked off the jury for the literature prize because he missed too many meetings.

On Freddy’s train ride, the winner of this prize is announced. Freddy notes that he knows the author, implying that in a twist of fate, Arthur won the esteemed literary prize. Just as Freddy despairs over their relationship, Arthur tracks him down and meets him on the train.