A Little Life

On the short list for several literary prizes for a reason. 700+ pages that will force you to give up all other obligations for the next 24 hours to read read read your eyes out. A book that caused a physical reaction in me, plus left lingering thoughts in the back of my head about when I could return to my chair and finish the last hundred pages. Hanya Yanagihara is a real talent – not the most brilliant writing, not quite genius – but her storytelling skills are beyond magical. This is the story of a core group of four college friends, JB the artist, Malcolm the designer/architect with wealthy parents, Willem the waiter turned movie star from Wyoming, and Jude the troubled broken sick man who had unspeakable horrors meted out to him as a child. Surrounding these are satellite characters of Harry & Julia who adopt 30 year old Jude, Andy the doctor that tends to Jude since college, Richard the sculptor, the Henry Youngs.
Some gripes:
* Jude is unbelievably petulant and everyone lets him get away with it due to the sorrows and issues he’s faced. The blowup with him and JB after his limp and moaning face were mocked was excessive- both Jude & Willem cut JB completely out of their lives when he needs them most, as a recovering meth addict? Does not compute.
* Every one, and I mean EVERY ONE, of their old friends becomes successful, no failures. It’s no problem at all to jet to Paris for a weekend to celebrate a birthday with everyone, and we hear endlessly about the various globe trottings of all the artists in their residencies. Multiple extravagant house purchases, apartments in many cities. All who entered the story early seem blessed by Midas Touch (except all their untimely deaths)
* Graphic depiction of the violence Jude endures both as a child and at the hands of Caleb, his first adult relationship which naturally turns abusive when Caleb is horrified to see Jude in his wheelchair.
* Curious that Yanagihara would choose to write a book with 98% male characters. Was this a necessary device to tell the tale of abuse of Jude, perhaps shockingly not as disturbing if it were to happen to a young girl? Or a means to capitalize on a cultural shortcut – by making all the characters men, you don’t have to show the tedious overarching struggle and baggage that accompanies the lives of women? By making them all men, she taxes less the audience’s suspension of disbelief that these characters can all be successful, independent, childless beings into their 50s?
Some great stuff on friendship:

Friendship was witnessing another’s slow drip of miseries, and long bouts of boredom, and occasional triumphs. It was feeling honored by the privilege of getting to be present for another person’s most dismal moments, and knowing that you could be dismal around him in return.

On children/childlessness:

Their world is governed by children, little despots whose needs–school and camp and activies and tutors– dictate every decision, and will for the next ten, fifteen, eighteen years. Having children has provided their adulthood with an instant and nonnegotiable sense of purpose and direction: they decide the length and location of that year’s vacation; they determine if there will be any leftover money, and if so, how it might be spent; they give shape to a day, a week, a year, a life. Children are a kind of cartography, and all one has to do is obey the map they present to you on the day they are born.
But he and his friends have no children, and in their absence, the world sprawls before them, almost stifling in its possibilities. Without them, one’s status as an adult is never secure; a childless adult creates adulthood for himself, and as exhilarating as it often is, it is also a state of perpetual insecurity, of perpetual doubt.