A Little Life Review

Title: A Little Life
Author: Hanya Yanagihara
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Doubleday

Blurb: 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cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their center of gravity.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.

Me: This 720 page wonder has consumed my thoughts awake, my dreams asleep, and every single thing in between for the last week that I read it. It was the fastest I have ever devoured a book this length in a long time, and I have officially been blown away and completely crushed into a million emotional bits. 

The Ups: Jude. Willem. Malcolm. JB. Andy. Richard. Harold. Julia. Lucien. Kit. Even Brother Luke, Dr. Traylor, and Caleb. 

With this book, I legitimately almost forgot that these characters were fictional. Every single one (no seriously, EVERY SINGLE ONE) is developed so masterfully- they are multifaceted, complex with distinct but hidden fears and desires, and their interactions with each other across time and how each character played into the eventual focus of the novel, Jude's terrible, beautiful life, was unbelievable. Never have I seen a cast of characters where every single one of them is so richly described that they become tangible but also where each of them leads their lives on the page so authentically it feels like the characters are truly just carrying out their truth, not the author creating a story. 

I keep noticing pieces of these characters in the world around me, and the book has clung so close to my heart that it took up most of my dreams (which were also strangely vivid) for the time that I read it. Even by the first quarter of the book, the characters' reactions to their triumphs and losses do not have to be described because I am right there with them, getting giddy and excited and then feeling like the whole ceiling is crashing on my shoulders. 

I loved all of these characters for their part in the story (even the horrible, cruel ones) but of course, there were a few that stuck deep. Jude: how an author can tell the inner self-hatred of a character so well but also subtly capture all the strength and bravery of that character, I don't know. But I was so intrigued and emotionally changed by Jude, who continues to live in a world that has shown him indescribable cruelty. Willem: here is a character that embodies true kindness. That doesn't mean he doesn't have flaws, or limits, but he tries and gives so much of his life to his friends without expecting anything back. His love for Jude was inspiring, to say the least. 

I was also struck about how much I loved Malcolm. He lives largely in the background for most of the later portion of the book but I saw in him such a real person trying to do good. His dedication to his work but also his dedication to his friends- I thought he was a great combination of taking care of himself and his life, but also being invested in and caring about others. 

The prose, of course, was wonderful as well. Even though Yanagihara's writing is lyrical and sometimes, over-descriptive, I read it so quickly it astonished me. She keeps such a raw but beautiful tone and you could tell this was a book she had given a part of herself to. Reading parts again in the beginning after finishing the book made the ending even more painful, because the plot is so natural that you see its inevitability even in the first pages. The titles of the parts in the book: "Lispenard Street," "Dear Comrade," "The Happy Years," are well-placed and meaningful. Every conversation between another character and Jude is purposeful. 

And if nothing else, I sobbed at the end. I couldn't see the words for the last few pages because I was crying so hard. I am definitely a crier in books, but I have never been a sobber. This book lived in me and touched me in ways I can't even express, and I am so grateful. 

The Downs/Curiosities: I'm sure many can relate, but the description of the self-destruction and abuse in the book was very difficult to process. I also realized that I may not be processing a lot of the more dark aspects correctly at my young age, and I kept that in mind as I read. 

I was also curious about the absence of faith in the book. Even though I am nonreligious, I kept wondering why these characters didn't seek any answers in some higher power- wouldn't that relieve their pain a little? But I also saw how Jude's background of being abused in the monastery could have led to a denial of religion in general, and I thought the process of dealing with pain just conscious in the world was very interesting, something I hadn't seen before in a book. 

"Wasn’t friendship its own miracle, the finding of another person who made the entire lonely world seem somehow less lonely?"
"It was a larger sadness, one that seemed to encompass all the poor striving people, the billions he didn't know, all living their lives, a sadness that mingled with a wonder and awe at how hard humans everywhere tried to live, even when their days were so very difficult, even when their circumstances were so wretched."

Rating: Beat my scale completely.

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