A Little Life; Hanya Yanagihara
Doubleday - March - 2015
When I first decided to read this book, I thought that the cover image was a terrible choice, however, after finishing this 700+ pp book over the course of a few weeks, I now think the image is perfect. It so accurately depicts the emotional pain, physical pain and trauma experienced by the focus character, Jude, from childhood through adulthood. I loved this book. It is by far, the BEST book I've read in years.
A Little Life, is a novel about a 30 year friendship of 4 male college friends. Jean Baptiste (JB) a self-centered artist, Malcolm, an architect, Willem, a kind, caring man and actor, and Jude, a handsome, brilliant man who entered college at 16. He is now a successful, but deeply troubled attorney.
Nick-named by his friends, Saint Jude, (Patron Saint of lost causes), Jude's friends really know very little about their friend. He keeps his painful childhood to himself. As an adult he is mostly crippled and, oftentimes he must rely on his wheelchair to get around. He tells his friends he was in a car accident at the age of 15, but there is much more to that story than is initially revealed. Abandoned as an infant, he never knew anything about his parents, he was in and out of group homes, and he even spent years with monks at a monastery.
Just when Jude felt there was some adult he could trust, his hopes were crushed by some cruel act by someone who he hoped had cared about him. When he thinks that his situation couldn't get any worst, it does. His first gift ever was at the age of 5, a fossil which he cherished, given to him by Brother Luke, a monk who would later betray him.
It is difficult to say to much more without revealing spoilers -- there are several reviews out there that give away way too many details, which will spoil the reading experience for others. The story is well paced and I was quickly drawn into the story and into Jude's dark world, and his past and present pain and trauma, which is slowly revealed. Even when he is in a happy situation, he can't stop himself from dwelling on the fact he feels so unworthy of any form of happiness.
Although the story was sad, heartbreaking really, the reader will also see that there is much kindness toward Jude by his friends and others who truly cared about him. Willem, who is guardedly allowed to be part of Jude's life. Harold, a former Harvard Law professor, who wants to adopt Jude as his own son, and Andy, a friend and doctor who is there for Jude when he desperately needed someone to help him.
A Little Life, cuts deep; it's real and gritty, yet beautiful as well. It's a book that examines, the good, the bad and the ugly people and things in life. It forces the reader to think about the uncomfortable things in life, the life long effects of physical, emotional and sexual abuse and trauma. It makes you wonder whether, even as adults, with supportive individuals ones side, is it ever possible to free oneself from the trauma of the past? This book is certainly not a good choice for the faint of heart reader -- individuals who shy away from graphic descriptions of abusive situations in various forms. This is one of those stories that will stick in my mind forever. I am so very happy I read this book, it makes my less than perfect childhood seem almost normal after reading this book. Hanya Yanagihara is a talented individual. In fact, I just started reading her debut novel, The People in the Trees, which I am also enjoying.
Thanks to John Pitts, VP from Doubleday for providing me with a finished copy of this book.