Short-listed for the Man Booker Prize
Long-listed for the National Book Award for Fiction
Brace yourself for the most astonishing, challenging, upsetting, and profoundly moving book in many a season. An epic about love and friendship in the 21st century that goes into some of the darkest places fiction has ever traveled and yet somehow, improbably, breaks through into the light.
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cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their center of gravity.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.
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.
"Yanagihara's immense new book, A Little Life, announces her, as decisively as a second work can, as a major American novelist." (The Wall Street Journal)
"Yanagihara’s novel can...drive you mad, consume you, and take over your life. Like the axiom of equality, A Little Life feels elemental, irreducible - and, dark and disturbing though it is, there is beauty in it." (The New Yorker)
"Yanagihara has drawn a deeply realized character study that inspires as much as devastates. It’s a life, just like everyone else's, but in Yanagihara’s hands, it’s also tender and large, affecting and transcendent; not a little life at all." (The Washington Post)
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Buyer beware: a five-star book with a big red flag
- B.J. "I hear voices. But maybe that's because there's always an Audible book in my ear."
I had to call in SAD to work
I was probably a quarter of the way into the novel before I texted my book buddy: "It's called A Little Life and you have to read it right this minute. I don't even understand why it's so unbearable and so beautiful." By the time I had a quarter of the novel left, I was walking around Walgreen's, to buy makeup to repair my cry-face, and sobbing.
This is not just a manipulative tearjerker. This is a genuine falling in love and mourning for and with the characters. I don't know if I am more in love with Jude or Willem--or perhaps with the love they have for each other.
This novel unfurls with a steady, patient, pace as the characters grow and change and, ostensibly, grow up. The depth of it is rather like John Irving, but without the width of the (often pointless) subplots. The author's widening and narrowing focus, however, is incomparable; I've not ever experienced the controlled examination of character, then whole world/context/relationship/effect. I'm not sure it's even nameable. Maybe something like Faulkner's As I Lay Dying, with the individual interpretations of self within the shared travesty.
A word about St. Jude. He sprang, fully formed, from Yanagihara's head--armed with his razor and armor of silence, and just as surely the child of an eater-of-innocence and Wisdom itself. The reader becomes as protective of Jude as everyone else, and when he is called "crazy" or "sick," you have to know it's true, but everything in you objects, even while you hope for his healing, or his willingness to heal.
In the living (beyond the merely reading) of this novel, I had to constantly construct and reconstruct my understanding of Jude, of Willem, my reactions, and therefore myself. In the end, I had to update my definition of love, of romantic love, of friendship, of parenthood, of selfishness/selflessness, and the meaning of one little life. This is the reason one reads, and the reason one writes.