When four classmates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way, they’re broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition. There is kind, handsome Willem, an aspiring actor; JB, a quick-witted, sometimes cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their center of gravity.
Over the decades, their relationships deepen and darken, tinged by addiction, success, and pride. Yet their greatest challenge, each comes to realize, is Jude himself, by midlife a terrifyingly talented litigator yet an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood, and haunted by what he fears is a degree of trauma that he’ll not only be unable to overcome—but that will define his life forever.
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
Genre: Adult, Literary Fiction
Publication Date: March 10th, 2015
A Little Life is literally pain materialized in form of a book.
It’s not the kind of pain you experience from heartbreak—over which you shed tears and feel better afterwards—it’s deep, gut-wrenching, innate suffering that leaves you feeling nauseated and hollow for days on end. Pain that feels like your soul was stripped bare, doused with gasoline, and set on fire. I’m not exaggerating—this book is completely, utterly devastating.
A Little Life paints a bleak picture of the lives of four characters; their thoughts, their daily hurdles, their hopes, and their dreams. It feels very much like a character study, but it also has a weirdly personal touch to it that gives its reader the feeling of being an invisible person standing next to them and accompanying them through their life. It oftentimes reads like a memoir, almost.
His persistent nostalgia depressed him, aged him, and yet he couldn’t stop feeling that the most glorious years, the years when everything seemed drawn in fluorescents, were gone. Everyone had been so much more entertaining then.
Every point of view that is introduced is rich in detail, every character painted so wholly and real, and every scene suffused with an eerily emotional quality, no doubt owing to Hanya Yanagihara prose, that you fall apart with it. Reading this book is the equivalent of watching a flower wilt and feeling something inside you shrivel—before you realize that the flower is you yourself.
The Little Life is undoubtedly harrowing in many ways, and there are issues I had with the story itself as a result of that, one of which is what is the point the author is trying to make? Because merely taking us on a journey of a character’s life filled with abuse, suffering and endless pain, and ending it with the character killing themselves can’t be it. Or can it?
One of the things I wanted to do with this book is create a character who never gets better. And, relatedly, to explore this idea that there is a level of trauma from which a person simply can’t recover. I do believe that really, we can sustain only a finite amount of suffering.
Yanagihara certainly did that—supply her character with traumatic events in his life—to the point of incredulity. I recall reading someone saying that this book is “torture porn”—and it is. It doesn’t tell a story with ups and downs, reprieve from pain (however short), rather than one of continuous abuse of a gay character in every imaginable form, and from every imaginable source possible.
It’s an unrelenting recount of the time and time again inflicted pain—until you’re almost too numb to even empathize anymore, and until the character and the story itself begin to feel static, and you detach completely.
I hope that the narrative’s momentum and suspense comes from the reader’s growing recognition (…) that [the character]’s too damaged to ever truly be repaired, and that there’s a single inevitable ending for him. — is there a reason that that character happens to be gay?
I finished reading A Little Life feeling like I survived it, just barely—734 pages of pure anguish, emotional and psychological torture—and with a bruised soul. And seeing as many people have since asked me if I’d recommend reading it—I honestly wouldn’t.
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You’ll have my eternal gratitude, love, and a life-long supply of virtual chocolate. 💞
Have you read this book, or is it on your TBR?
If you have, what did you think of it?
(Does your heart still hurt to think about it as well?)