The subject matter kept me away from A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara – who wants to dwell on self-mutilation and child molestation? I started reading it one night and had just started to enjoy the camaraderie of the four principal characters when the first incident occurred. Thankfully, I had no nightmares but the next day I could not wait to start reading again and did not stop until I finished.
New Yorker reviewer John Michaud called it “an unsettling meditation on sexual abuse, suffering, and the difficulties of recovery.” You can read his review here for more details on the plot.
Curious about the author, I found several interviews and was surprised to learn Yanagihara has a day job as an editor for Condé Nast Traveler. In an interview with Alexander Nazaryan of Newsweek,Yanagihara reveals the philosophy driving her writing: “All life is small…Life will end in death and unhappiness, but we do it anyway.” In an interview with the National Book Award committee (the book was a 2015 finalist), Yanagihara describes her focus in writing the book:
“So much of this book, especially what it suggests about friendship—its possibilities and its limitations—grew out of conversations with my own best friend… the realization that what you’re doing may not resolve anything—but that lack of resolution doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing…
The book does focus on friendship but the graphic descriptions of sexual violence make it hard to read. Added to the trauma is Yanagihara’s mental construct of life – no happy endings here. In an online interview, she noted, ” I didn’t do any research; Jude came to me fully formed, and writing his sections were always the easiest…One of the things I wanted to do with this book is create a character who never gets better… that there is a level of trauma from which a person simply can’t recover.”
I’m hoping to forget most of the story, but a few redeeming phrases about friendship I will remember:
- “And he understood that friendship was a series of exchange of affections of time, sometimes of money, always of information.”
- “…the utter comfort…of having someone who had known him for so long and who could be relied upon to always take him as exactly who he was…”
Read the book, if you dare.