Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Book Review ~ A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara


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, most ultra-Dickensian places fiction has ever traveled and yet somehow improbably breaks through into the light. Truly an amazement—and a great gift for its publisher.

     In its simplest terms, this is a novel about the long-term friendship of four classmates from a Massachusetts liberal arts college who come to New York to make their way; unlike most such college friendships the four never lose touch over the years and decades. There is Willem, an actor from the West who becomes a Ryan Gosling-type indie film star and heartthrob; Malcolm, an Upper East Side buppie who becomes a noted architect; JB, a painter of Haitian/Brooklyn middle class descent whose Basquiat-type portraits of his friends earn him art world fame and fortune; and Jude St. Francis, a damaged orphan with a mysterious past whose brilliance in the law cannot shield him from the effects of that past and whose fragility and need for protection bind the group together as much as any one thing.

The book begins as a four-hander as we watch the friends progress in their lives and careers and observe the intricacies and shifting alliances of such a group friendship. But gradually Jude takes over the book and we learn his horrifying and beyond-Gothic backstory. The drama of the book is whether Jude can ever escape the grip of his Dickensian past--can he be saved? All of this unfolds over the decades in a mesmerizing fashion, with the tragic and the transcendent being on closer and more intimate terms than any work of fiction you have ever read.

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Well alrighty then.....if I wasn't already depressed, I sure as heck would be after reading this heart-wrenching tear-jerker.  If I had to sum up this novel quickly (and I will), it would have to be one huge train wreck that you can't help but stop and stare at the destruction and casualties before you, not able to turn away for a second -  feeling utterly terrible for continuing to do just that.  But yet, you can't help but keep on staring until the very end hoping for a somewhat happy ending to such a tragic story.

This is not a happy book filled with rainbows, unicorns and pretty flowers.  It deals with some really tough issues that I had a really difficult trying to wrap my mind around.  I really had to go way out of my comfort zone (seriously...way out of my comfort zone) with this novel on so many levels, but in the end I am somewhat glad that I stuck with it until the end.

Now that I am a total emotional wreck, I need to move on to something more uplifting.

That is all.

4 Stars

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