Extract: Less is Lost – Andrew Sean Greer
Chapter 1, pp. 7-9
Let’s look at Arthur Less today:
Standing on the deck of a San Francisco ferryboat, in a gray suit so precisely the same color as the fog that he seems (as in a not particularly scary movie) to be a ghostly floating head. Look at his thinning hair wind whipped into the stiff peak of a blond meringue, his thin lips, his sharpened nose and elongated chin recalling Viking invaders from the Bayeux tapestry, as white as a white man can get, colored only by the pink tips of his nose and ears and by the blown glass blue of his eyes. Look at Arthur Less. Somewhere past fifty, indeed a ghost of his former self, but as the sky begins to darken he fully materializes into a tall middle aged man shivering in the cold. Here he stands, our hero, looking around like a man who has grown a mustache and is waiting for someone to notice.
He has, in fact, grown a mustache. He is, in fact, waiting for someone to notice.
On this foggy October morning, our Minor American Novelist is making his way to a small Gold Rush town in the Sierra Nevadas to give a lecture in their Significant Speakers Series. For anyone else, it would be a mere three hour journey, but our Arthur Less has to do things the hard way; he has chosen to take a ferry and a train. This should land him in the townlet in about five hours, and along the way he expects to take in the view gold miners must have had climbing from bawdy San Francisco up to the barren mountains of their fortunes.
Oh to have a manometer that truly measures the essence of man! What would it show of our protagonist, smiling gently on his city as it fades into the fog like a photograph too long exposed? Perhaps the restlessness of a heart swimming inside a fiftyish ribcage. But also, I think: the seeping pleasure of recognition, which, though writers claim to desire only for their ink to dry before they leave the planet, must be what warms this sole occupant of the upper decks on this cold foggy Sunday. For is he not a Significant Speaker? Traveling even now to be applauded by gold miners much like Oscar Wilde on his tour of the Wild West (such are his delusions that Less imagines miners and not marijuana farmers)? And more: Arthur Less has received more invitations in recent days than in all the last year put together. A major Prize has asked him to be on its jury; a theatre company has requested to perform one of his stories. Could it be some silent audience, eagerly awaiting a new novel? Some hidden force unrecognized by the publishing and critical world of New York City which, like an orbiting space station, looks upon the rest of America without ever interacting with it?
This is an extract from Less is Lost by Andrew Sean Greer, published by Hachette Australia.