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I read an article in which the author compared the experience of writing this book to a "fever dream" - and that's actually similar to how I felt while reading it. Yanagihara's prose is so beautifully written, her characters so well-drawn, that I would go hours absorbed in her work, experiencing that heady feeling that only great fiction can induce. Yes, there are dark passages; scenes that will break your heart and make you angry. But there are also moments in this book that made me think deeply about the nature of friendship and love, forgiveness and recovery, and what it means to actually share your life - your past, your pain, your aspirations, your joy - with those you love. And while there's a brutality to A Little Life - a raw quality that often left me feeling as exposed as its characters - there was something in Yanagihara's writing that was wondrous; something that made me appreciate my own little life.
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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.
248 of 261 people found this review helpful