A Little Life

A Little Life

A Novel

Book - 2015
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NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FINALIST

SHORT-LISTED FOR THE MAN BOOKER PRIZE

Brace yourself for the most astonishing, challenging, upsetting, and profoundly moving book in many a season. An epic about love and friendship in the twenty-first century that goes into some of the darkest places fiction has ever traveled and yet somehow improbably breaks through into the light. Truly an amazement--and a great gift for its readers.

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cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their center of gravity.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

In rich and resplendent prose, Yanagihara has fashioned a tragic and transcendent hymn to brotherly love, a masterful depiction of heartbreak, and a dark examination of the tyranny of memory and the limits of human endurance.
Publisher: New York :, Doubleday,, [2015]
Edition: First edition
Copyright Date: ©2015
ISBN: 9780385539258
Branch Call Number: F YAN
Characteristics: 720 pages ; 25 cm

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DBRL_KatSU Oct 23, 2017

Oh man, this is a long book, but I never felt like I was slogging through its hundreds of pages. Instead, I kept turning the pages to get more glimpses of the lives of Jude and Willem (and Malcolm and JB, but to a lesser extent). This book was heartbreaking and, at times, incredibly difficult to read, but in spite of that, the highs were very high. I definitely cried through several scenes, usually because my heart was breaking, but a couple of times it was from happiness. This book . . . oh this book- it was truly an emotional roller coaster for me.

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njon38
Oct 23, 2017

This was shortlisted for the Mann Booker prize in 2015 and I picked it up on a recommendation of a college student who considers it a life changing book in his life making me predisposed to like it. The woman can certainly write about a range of things and there are passages that are simply sublime. Ostensibly about the life long friendship of 4 male college roommates sort of a male version of "the Group" by Mary McCarthy. The friends are Jude, Willem, JB and Malcolm but the book is ultimately about Jude irreparably damaged as a child who can't be saved despite a plethora of people in his adult life who provide unconditional love. I found it implausible, melodramatic and could not grasp why Jude got unconditional love and life long support from a group of people, i.e. not sure what Jude brought to the table.

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lnbrarian
Oct 04, 2017

I don't think I've ever cried so much at a book in my life? Extremely brutal and heartbreaking but worth it, IMO.

m
mikey1982
Aug 24, 2017

I found this book difficult to put down. It shows the power of friendship and love but at times is heartbreaking.

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empbee
Jul 08, 2017

Gripping but too long; interesting technique with gradual incorporation of the past. Halfway through it felt like it was made for a tv series. A mix of realistic and fictional character behaviour.

k
kathygilman
May 23, 2017

Loved this book due to the author's fascinatingly in-depth descriptions of character's self-destructive behaviors. Was able to vicariously plumb into the dark depths which both repulsed and seduced me. Emotionally difficult to read at times. Highly recommend. NOT your typical book! It's my new yardstick for reading.

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AlteredStaite
Apr 19, 2017

I usually put books aside if they don't grab me by page 50 but this one made it to 100 because of the 'National Book Award Finalist' logo on the cover. (once again sucked in by a publisher)
This book needed a good editor to purge the ridiculous melodrama and useless words.

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pwatkins1212
Mar 21, 2017

The book requires a specific kind of endurance to traverse what feels like an ultra marathon of emotional and intellectual struggle contained in the relationships (as supremely expressed in Jude's relationship with himself). Jude's complexity is tiring and relentless as Yanagihara unpacks an insidious life story in a way that is as completely soul wrenching as it is deeply fixated in displaying the merciless power of pain. I identified with characters Malcolm and JB ironically much less than expected as a person of color and more profoundly with the dynamic between Willem's championing heart of hope and childlike-naïveté and as I felt, it's most wonderful juxtaposition with Jude's colossal and rather volcanic state of despair (also quite literally in JB's paintings).

I think the story sort of forcefully ushers readers through a process of emotional sophistication in coming to terms with who the characters actually are (in comparison to the reader's expectation) and carefully tours the unusual state of pathology afflicting Jude. There is an element of the story I found haunting as I bear resemblance to Jude's upbringing. This however afforded me the wherewithal to finish the book hoping all the while for Jude to be at peace [with himself]. Yanagihara was successful at creating a novel that provokes considerations of the male emotional experience, wholly assimilates ideas of the contemporary romantic relationship, and inspires reflection on definitions of happiness in western culture.

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azuki
Mar 13, 2017

I borrowed this book expecting to love it, based on glowing reviews and my excitement for reading more books by people of color. I couldn't have been more disappointed. Three issues I had (no plot spoilers within):

1. The four main characters are Malcolm, Jude, JB, and Willem. Malcolm and JB are Black; Jude is a non-Black person of color with ambiguous heritage, and Willem is white. Yanagihara (who seems to be a non-Black person of color herself) treats them in starkly different ways. Whereas JB and Malcolm's flaws are represented as aspects of their personality/character, Jude and Willem are far and away the more kindhearted, reflective, and emotionally generous of the group. They even share a particular connection to each other, mostly characterized by tenderness and self-sacrifice (JB and Malcolm are left out of this, presumably because of how self-centered they are). JB and Malcolm are often seen doing what's in their own interests and choosing their own comfort over Jude and Willem's, when tension arises. Even worse, Yanagihara takes special care to explicitly dismiss Malcolm and JB's experiences of racism by naming class privilege:

"Growing up, the fact of his father's blackness (and, he supposed, his own), had been trumped by other, more significant matters, factors that counted for more in their slice of New York City than his father's race: his wife's prominence in the Manhattan literary scene, for example, and most importantly, his wealth. The New York that Malcolm and his family occupied was one divided not along racial lines but rather tax brackets, and Malcolm had grown up insulated from everything that money could protect him from, including bigotry himself..." (61)

Yanagihara perpetuates the harmful and false idea that anti-Black racism exists solely through classism -- that she uses a Black character to validate this is even more digusting. There are other examples of her flippant treatment of Black experience, but don't take my word for it. Even the New York Times' review states, "Malcolm and JB soon fade into minor characters as race becomes a nonissue".

2. The first mention of a trans person is the essentially as the butt of a joke: two of the characters (guess who? Malcolm and JB) discuss an acquaintance who they've heard is transitioning. Not only do they intentionally misgender the person, they also debate the validity of the person's right to transition based on their own assessments of that person's gender. No opposition is presented to these transphobic remarks, and once again, Yanagihara uses her Black characters to communicate dismissive, demeaning sentiments about marginalized experiences.

3. It's no secret that Jude, the central character, has survived tremendous trauma (the nature of which is slowly revealed through increasingly graphic descriptions). What I found frustrating is how Jude's character epitomizes the "perfect victim" paradigm. Any behavior of Jude's that is negatively portrayed is immediately and heavy-handedly contextualized by his experiences of violence. Though it's important to contexutalize people's behaviors through their lived experiences, it's entirely different to create characters who are two-dimensional because of their trauma. For more about why the "perfect victim" trope is harmful and alienating to survivors of violence, see A. Lea Roth and Nastassja Schmiedt's article, "Hunting for the Perfect Victim", and Shannon Perez-Darby's "The Secret Joy of Accountability", in The Revolution Starts at Home anthology.

To me, this book is a demonstration of how non-Black people of color can and do perpetuate anti-Black racism; how the prominent portrayal of cis queer characters does little to shift toxic cultural narratives of queer and trans people; and how portraying trauma unflinchingly is no substitute for honoring survivors' complexity.

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Brendablau
Jan 13, 2017

I totally agree with Tati. It's painful to read.

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Notices

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a
azuki
Mar 13, 2017

Frightening or Intense Scenes: graphic descriptions of assault

a
azuki
Mar 13, 2017

Violence: child sexual abuse, domestic abuse

v
VV12
Mar 26, 2016

Other: self-harm

v
VV12
Mar 12, 2016

Sexual Content: rape, child molestation

v
VV12
Mar 12, 2016

Violence: child abuse, domestic violence

Age Suitability

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h
Hshswiss
Sep 08, 2016

Hshswiss thinks this title is suitable for 16 years and over

b
booksophie
Jun 01, 2016

booksophie thinks this title is suitable for 13 years and under

v
VV12
Mar 12, 2016

VV12 thinks this title is suitable for 16 years and over

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g
gmeuschke
Aug 22, 2017

"But what Andy never understood about him was this: he was an optimist. Every month, every week he chose to open his eyes, to live another day in the world. He did it when he was feeling so awful that sometimes the pain seemed to transport him to another state, one in which everything, even the past that he worked so hard to forget, seemed to fade into a gray watercolor wash. He did it when his memories crowded out all other thoughts, when it took real effort, real concentration, to tether himself to his current life, to keep himself from raging with despair and shame. He did it when he was so exhausted of trying, when being awake and alive demanded such energy that he had to lie in bed thinking of reasons to get up and try again, when it would be easier to go to the bathroom and untape the plastic zipped bag containing his cotton pads and loose razors and alcohol wipes and bandages from its hiding place beneath the sink and simply surrender. Those were the very bad days."

g
gmeuschke
Aug 22, 2017

"Wasn't it a miracle to survive the unsurvivable? Wasn't friendship its own miracle, the finding of another person who made the entire lonely world seem somehow less lonely? Wasn't this house, this beauty, this comfort, this life a miracle? And so who could blame him for hoping for one more, for hoping that despite knowing better, that despite biology, and time, and history, that they would be the exception, that what happened to other people with Jude's sort of injury would't happen to him, that even with all that Jude had overcome, he might overcome just one more thing?"

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