Margin Notes: A Little Life

A Little Life 

by Hanya Yanagihara

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cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their center of gravity.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

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book. Wow.

I hesitated to pick up A Little Life because it was so long, it was nominated for so many awards, it had so much buzz... I was picturing a scenario where my hopes were too high, and the style didn't suit me, and it didn't hit the home run I was looking for. I was 100% wrong. I finally picked up the book when my friend was reading it and dying for someone to talk to about it.

This is, by far, the best book I have read in 12 months (if not longer). It's brutal. It's sad. It's devastating. But it is also incredibly moving.

It's a story of friendship and how it changes over time, abuse, different kinds of love, dealing with emotional and physical pain, resilience, recovery, family, creativity, secrets, disagreements, and love.

In the first 80 or so pages - when the reader is introduced to the four characters that make up this clique of guys-I got them mixed up and I kept flipping back and forth to confirm that Malcolm is the one with the successful parents who don't quite believe in him, and Willem is the handsome actor with the disabled brother, Jude is the successful lawyer with the physical disability, and JB is the emotional artist with so much familial support.

Once I had them straight, it was a head first dive into their lives, particularly Jude, and I relished every heartbreaking sentence. You think this story will be about post grads finding their purpose and ebbing and flowing in the NYC scene. As you get deeper into the story, you realize that the author is slowly shifting focus to Jude. At the beginning of the story I was a little apprehensive about Jude's character and getting to know him (as he was the one character I had the least in common with), but I was absolutely pulled into his story hook, line, and sinker. It was shocking, moving, and utterly compelling. While he would get top billing (with Willem as costar), the rest of the characters really round out the story--JB and Malcolm, the other two in the group of four who have compelling plots all their own. Andy, the doctor who you feel for. Julia and Harold, who adopt Jude when he's 30 years old and who love him but are afraid of acknowledging the depth of his emotional damage.

I actually had to put this book down at points because I was crying so hard I couldn't see the page. And those tears were earned--they weren't the kind that come from surprise, or manufactured situations, or shallow sadness, this book earns your emotions and makes your heart heave with compassion and sympathy.

I highly, highly recommend this book--but be warned, it's not for the faint of heart. And it left me sobbing.

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