Title: A Little Life
Author: Hanya Yanagihara
*Mild spoiler included below*
If you’ve explored my site recently, you have encountered A Little Life in several of my recent posts (see here and here). I participate in a two-person book club and, at the suggestion of my friend, read A Little Life for the month of June. Neither of us were familiar with the Hanya Yanagihara or knew what to expect.
Maybe that is why this book was so engrossing.
I cannot remember the last time I so thoroughly devoured a book. What Yanagihara does so well is capture the essence and specificity of relationships — how decidedly mundane interactions can so succinctly embody who is a person is. What is singular about this book, though, is it’s emphasis on male relationships — friendships, romances, familial, professional. This is an examination on male intimacy, which often goes unacknowledged.
Here we have Willem, JB, Malcolm, and Jude — college roommates turned lifetime friends. They settle in New York and we witness their inter-relationships with each other ebb and flow over decades. We see them young and immature, and watch them grow with each other. We see the depths of their despair but also the heights of their joy. We see a lot
But, early on in the book, the narrative shifts. It initially seems to focus on all four friends equally. However, Jude soon becomes the central character. Jude with his secrets and his shame. Yanagihara is a superb writer but a distinguished psychologist. She knows how intrigued we are — read: I am — by that which disturbs. And I was utterly disturbed by Jude’s past and its affect of his present. I became a spectator to Jude’s horror. Like his friends, I wanted to know; I had suspicions but needed to know. His is the story that take the forefront, that begins to dominate the pages. By the middle of the book, it is apparent that the others’s stories, when incorporated into the story, are included only for the way they may service Jude’s narrative.
By the last 100 pages, it becomes oppressive.
The ending just didn’t do it for me. I spent over 550 pages caring about them all. But by the end, I just wanted it to be over. The ending was drawn out and melodramatic. There are still many unanswered questions — the most grating, to me, being that we never really understand what illness Jude suffers from.
Again, there are beautiful friendships here, and amazing characters surrounding the four friends. I would recommend this book, which also comes with beautiful passages. However, be prepared to have to plow your way through the ending.