A Little Life
by Hanya Yanagihara
published by Doubleday
Yes- this is one of my favorites books this year (which is almost over). I will be totally honest- this is not a happy book. Quite the opposite, this is one of the most difficult, depressing books I have ever read, and that usually isn’t my cup of tea. I am also hesitant to recommend this book lightly. I will mention how much I liked it, admired the writing, etc, but I always follow it up with this might not be the book for you. Because it is hard. It actually hurt reading this book. I am not sure if I cried this hard since Dumbledore died.
Many people will describe this as a book about four college friends living in Manhattan. I think it begins that way, but evolves into the story of Jude, and how his friends affect his life. Jude is a tough character to get involved with. From the beginning we know he is somehow disabled, his legs permanently injured. He doesn’t say an accident, but a car injury. We slowly get to know more about all four men- Jude, the broken man, Willem, the charismatic actor, JB, the artist, and Malcolm the talented, quiet architect. As the story centers more on Jude, we come to see the horrible things he has had to live through, and his unrelenting pain, physical and mental, is devastating.
I do recommend this book for someone who will immerse themselves here. It might leave you feeling hollowed out, as it did me. But it might also stay with you long after you finish, as it did me- I am still talking about it months after finishing.
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cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their center of gravity.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.
“I have become lost to the world
In which I otherwise wasted so much time It means nothing to me
Whether the world believes me dead
I can hardly say anything to refute it For truly, I am no longer a part of the world.”
“Sometimes he wakes so far from himself that he can’t even remember who he is. “Where am I?” he asks, desperate, and then, “Who am I? Who am I?”
And then he hears, so close to his ear that it is as if the voice is originating inside his own head, Willem’s whispered incantation. “You’re Jude St. Francis. You are my oldest, dearest friend. You’re the son of Harold Stein and Julia Altman. You’re the friend of Malcolm Irvine, of Jean-Baptiste Marion, of Richard Goldfarb, of Andy Contractor, of Lucien Voigt, of Citizen van Straaten, of Rhodes Arrowsmith, of Elijah Kozma, of Phaedra de los Santos, of the Henry Youngs.
“You’re a New Yorker. You live in SoHo. You volunteer for an arts organization; you volunteer for a food kitchen.
“You’re a swimmer. You’re a baker. You’re a cook. You’re a reader. You have a beautiful voice, though you never sing anymore. You’re an excellent pianist. You’re an art collector. You write me lovely messages when I’m away. You’re patient. You’re generous. You’re the best listener I know. You’re the smartest person I know, in every way. You’re the bravest person I know, in every way.
“You’re a lawyer. You’re the chair of the litigation department at Rosen Pritchard and Klein. You love your job; you work hard at it.
“You’re a mathematician. You’re a logician. You’ve tried to teach me, again and again.
“You were treated horribly. You came out on the other end. You were always you.”