Less is Lost a Disappointing Sequel



By Sean Greer

Little, Brown & Company





I really liked Book 1 of this series, but too much of the sequel comes off as if Sean Greer was as discombobulated as his main character, Archie “Arthur” Less. Greer is an established figure in gay literature­–Less won a Pulitzer Prize in 2018–but Less is Lost lacks the strong narrative and sharp humor of Book 1.


This novel is another travelogue of sorts for Less, a man who definitely comes down on the first side of the flight or fight scale. He’s now in his 50s and the mirror tells him the bloom is fading from the rose. So too did the death of his longtime lover, poet Robert Brownburn. He’s now in a (sort-of) relationship with Freddy Pelu, one that’s probably clearer to Freddy than to Arthur. In other words, Arthur is having a major end-of-midlife crisis. To top it off, he’s broke, though that’s nothing new.


His objective is to make his way from the West Coast to Valonica Island off the coast of Maine to be with Freddy and assess where things are headed. All manner of things conspire to waylay him. First, his agent Peter Hunt hands him the task of interviewing iconic poet H.H.H. Mandern, an 84-year-old primo uomo who has settled into the role of pampered crank. Arthur has met him before, but Mandern doesn’t recall that, keeps calling him “Yes,” and has two conditions for the interview: a question answered in exchange for a question of his own, and Arthur’s agreement to drive him, his pug Dolly, and his campervan Rosina across the Southwest to find his daughter. This gives Less limited time to join a tour across the South with a theater company that has adapted one of his stories (“The Last Word”), make it to his home state of Delaware to a lecture/awards ceremony, and then to Maine to join Freddy.


As if things couldn’t be messy enough, he’s also on a prize committee that doesn’t seem to care about his opinion, there’s another Arthur Less, and his father Lawrence, from whom he is estranged, is allegedly going to meet him somewhere. Arthur thinks Lawrence might be underwriting the theater tour. Arthur doesn’t want to do any of these things­­­–especially see his father–but he hopes to collect enough money to pay off debts. Did I mention that Hurricane Herman is bearing down on the South? Or that he is asked to meet with the foundation that is sponsoring the play?


A gay man in the Deep South holds the potential for humor tinged with danger. Less (Book 1), had some very funny situations, but Less is Lost falls more into the mildly amusing category. More’s the pity; in this case, less is not more. There is a redux of Arthur’s misplaced belief in his proficiency with German, plus mistaken identities, partners traveling in opposite directions, and a switcheroo that falls into a category marked “obvious.”   


I wouldn’t call Less is Lost a bad novel, but Greer has previously played the disappointments of aging card and second acts seldom pack the same dramatic punch. There is an overall flatness to the prose and an often confusing narrative structure. Freddy is the putative narrator for most of the book–Arthur the rest–but this leads to illogical jumps between past and present tenses. How can Freddy even be the narrator of things happening to Arthur in the present when he hasn’t yet arrived in Maine? (There is nothing to suggest that Freddy has chronicled Less’ journey ex post facto.)


I know nothing about Greer’s writing process, but the four year gap between Book 1 and Book 2, the short length of Book 2, and its copy of a copy elements suggest either writer’s block or publisher demands for a sequel. Let’s just say that Less is Lost is not an LGBTQ parallel to John Updike’s Rabbit series. I could add that I’m not terribly inclined to read Book 3, should one appear.


Rob Weir


Fox Creek a Thrill Ride Across the US/Canada Border



FOX CREEK (2022)

By William Kent Krueger

Atria/Simon & Schuster, 385 pages.





Fox Creek is the 19th book in the Cork O’Connor series. I know what you’re thinking: “This book’s not for me. There’s no way I’m going to plow through the first 18 to get to this one!” Don’t despair. Author William Kent Krueger possesses a skill many claim to have but few actually demonstrate; longtime readers know his characters well, but Krueger produces discrete stories independent of what was previously written.


Krueger specializes in mystery and crime novels that invite comparisons to the late Tony Hillerman. Like Hillerman, he’s not Native American, but he draws praise among the Anishinaabe/Ojibwe peoples about whom he writes. His main character, Cork O’Connor, is of mixed Irish/Ojibwe blood, but he identifies mostly as the latter. He was once a sheriff, but now works in a restaurant, does private detective work on the side, and lives in northern Minnesota.  


This mystery unfolds when a man claiming to be Lou Morriseau asks Cork to help him find his wife Delores. He claims she ran off because she was having an affair with Henry Meloux. Cork agrees because he it’s not hard to smell a wolverine when you know that Henry, a Native healer, is 100 years old and the great uncle of his second wife Rainy Bisonette, who has been with Henry organizing a sweat lodge ceremony. (Cork’s first wife was murdered.) Cork finds Delores easily, so who is the imposter and what’s his game?


The plot thickens when Cork’s son, Stephen, has a vision of Henry dying in the woods, and Cork learns of the real Lou via his brother Anton, a tribal cop from a nearby reservation. The real Lou is a real estate lawyer and Cork surmises that maybe he’s in over his head on some deal. Besides, it’s never a bad idea to think money is at the root of lies. Cork also realizes he’s been had in locating Delores and essentially did the fake Lou’s work for him. When Rainy and Delores vanish, Cork senses serious danger and concludes he has a limited amount of time to find them. The only clue he has is a cryptic reference to “kill Catie.” Or is it “Katie?”


The situation grows murkier when Tanya Baptiste, a Native woman, shows up at the home of the real Lou’s parents to tell them she really needs to talk to the real Lou. Stephen, who plans to study law enforcement, is sucked in when he meets Lou’s sister Belle, a law student. He’s falling for her and feeling might be mutual. But the first problem is finding Lou, who has also disappeared.


The flight of Delores, Rainy, and Henry is at the heart of the story and the bad guys make a mistake by underestimating Henry; nobody knows the woods as well as he and he’s incredibly resilient for a centenarian. A substantive and unexpected obstacle appears, though. Henry recognizes that their pursues have enlisted a tracker so skilled that he has to be a Native American. We ultimately learn that his name is Le Loup. His visions play a major role in the novel as do his divided loyalties. The drama plays out at the novel’s namesake Fox Creek, which empties into a lake near Winnipeg, Manitoba, thereby making this a cross-border tale.


Fox Creek is a thrilling read made all the more so by the ambiguity of motives, identities, and circumstances. Pay close attention; this is not  a WYSIWYG novel. Be as suspicious as Cork as you read, but perhaps more astute. One of the things I like about Krueger’s stories is that Cork is often impulsive and makes flawed assumptions, just like real investigators often make rather than the omniscient ones that show up in detective stories that place personality above probability.


Krueger’s sympathies for the Ojibwe are on display, but he doesn’t make them uniformly virtuous. When you discover the identity of “Catie,” the key to the mystery, you might be prompted to investigate some recent Native American history from the Minnesota/Canadian border. My sympathies align with Krueger’s, but if we take weapons and illegal activity out of the equation, complex political issues remain. That’s seldom good news for Natives living outside the pages of a work of fiction.


Rob Weir





Marjorie Morningstar: Wood, Kelly, and 1950s Values



Directed by Irving Rapper

Warner Brothers, 123 minutes, not rated.




Though it has been 42 years since her death–officially a drowning, though possibly a murder–Natalie Wood (1938-81) continues to be the subject of nostalgic remembrances and lurid tabloid stories. At age 8 she attracted attention in Miracle on 34th Street and went on to become a famed beauty, a rare raven-haired siren at a time in which Hollywood definitely preferred blondes. Whether or not she was a great actress has been hotly disputed.


You can get an education in gender mores during the 1950s by watching Wood in Marjorie Morningstar. She is the title character, though that’s a pet name slapped onto her by Noel Airman (Gene Kelly) and the actual surname is Morgenstern. Wood plays the daughter of Rose and Arnold (Claire Trevor and Everett Sloane), an upwardly mobile Jewish family in New York City. (Wood was actually Russian Orthodox.) One refreshing thing about the film is that there was no attempt to homogenize Jewishness; we see outward professions of faith, a Passover meal, and a debate over Noel’s non-faith. This reflects the refashioning of Americanism after World War II to become, as an influential book put it, “Protestant, Catholic, Jew.”


Wood’s Marjorie is a vivacious Hunter College student with aspirations of becoming an actress who is too spirited for her about-to-be-ex boyfriend Sandy. Her best friend Marsha Zelensky (Carolyn Jones) convinces Marjorie that she needs a change and should accompany her to the Catskills where the two become camp counsellors. The trouble begins when Marsha also convinces her to paddle across the lake­–filming took place at Schroon Lake near Glens Falls, New York–because there’s an adult resort on the other side. They need to be careful and inconspicuous, though, as South Winds Resort owner Maxwell Greech (George Tobias) would not hesitate to have them arrested for trespassing. Now there’s an obvious setup! Marjorie sneaks into a dance rehearsal and is enthralled by the professionalism and skill of social director of Noel Airman. When the two are indeed caught, Airman claims Marjorie is a job candidate and offers her employment.


That’s settled, but as you probably suspect, the employer/employee relationship will evolve from fascination into romance. Okay, that’s very 1950s, though it did raise some eyebrows even back then. Kelly’s character is said to be 32, though he was actually 46, and Wood was just 19. Marjorie’s parents, of course, have reservations, the aforementioned indifference to religion among them. Marjorie, though, sees Noel as a genius and a show biz bigshot who might help her realize her dreams. We viewers have our doubts, as she’s actually quite amateurish and is starting to suspect it herself. Nonetheless, she rebuffs the advances of the age-appropriate budding playwright Wally Wronkin (Martin Milner), who is smitten by her. The best Marjorie’s parents can do in hope of keeping her from screwing up her life is to plant her uncle Samson (Ed Wynn) at the resort.

Marjorie Morningstar is a romantic drama with comedic touches. Many of the latter are provided by the barbed comments of Claire Trevor and the clowning of veteran character actor Ed Wynn. They are, however, diversions in a story about obsession involving Wood, Kelly, and Milner. This is something of a problem, because the tone of Marjorie Morningstar is an uncomfortable mix of high schoolish skits, Kelly’s dancing, and adult themes of ambition, desire, coming of age, flight, and realizations of one’s limits. It doesn’t quite turn out the way you might expect; some audiences of the day applauded the film’s resolution and others were disappointed. It departed from the ending in the Herman Wouk novel from which the movie was adapted.


There is no question that this was a vehicle for a rising star (Wood) and fading one (Kelly), nor can we divorce the content from what was acceptable in the 1950s, cringe-worthy though some things were. I confess that I fall on the side of those who saw Wood as a beautiful young woman, but a fairly ordinary actress. You can make up your own mind about all of that, but the film is probably best viewed through the gauzy Technicolor lens of Harry Stradling’s cinematography. It often looks like an old snapshot rescued from a photo album in the back of a closet. Some might see Marjorie Morningstar as a classic. I’d call it an artifact on par with the Borscht Belt Catskills where it was set.


Rob Weir