*This review has spoilers so read at your own risk*
Name of the book – A Little Life
Author – Hanya Yanagihara
Genre – Novel, Domestic Fiction
Year of Publication – 2015
Summary (From Goodreads)–
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cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their center of gravity.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.
Extended Summary & Review – A lot of people have mentioned that this book would make you cry. As for me, well I had my moments where I teared up, but maybe that’s because the trauma didn’t shake me as much as it would for another person. Then again, that depends on how emotional you get. For those of you who might be reading this and thinking, “Wow, is she stone cold?”, trust me when I say that I’m not. The truth is that it didn’t shake me as much because I related to Jude as a character minus all the trauma he had.
Now this book has seven parts. And I’m going to be real with you; Part 1 is super slow, and that is because through the first 100 ish pages, you’re going to learn about the friendship dynamic of Jude, Willem, Malcolm and JB. As for the second – well you might hit a phase of confusion there. There’s a happy moment for Jude in there (he gets adopted by Harold), and we get to know a bit more about Jude’s secrecy (I think Ana is mentioned in this part). We also learn more about his physical condition; which is his legs. This part transitions from past to present – past being five years earlier when the four of them were in their early thirties and present – when they’re all of the age of 36 and running.
In the present we see that Malcolm is now a successful architect, working on his own projects, Willem is now a famous actor; JB has made about two to three gallery events of his paintings featuring Jude as his subject (which Jude doesn’t like because he feels that JB never got his consent), and as for Jude himself; he decides to quit his job at the US Attorney’s office to become a ligator in a well-known firm, much to the disappointment of Harold. Both Willem and Jude move out of Lispenard Street (the one-bedroom apartment that they share in Part 1) and Jude gets his own from a friend in Greene Street.
Jude’s trauma revelations begin as the story progresses – we get to see a phase where his legs give up on him and he has to use a wheelchair in Part Three. JB is now addicted to drugs and refuses help from his friends and mocks Jude in the process; thereby resulting in at the end of their friendship. Malcolm still talks to him from time to time but Willem refuses to do so.
Part Four allows us into almost all of the trauma and we now know almost everything there is to know about Jude. In the time that Willem had gone overseas for a shoot, Jude gets into a relationship that doesn’t end well. Willem is now back in the picture and the two of them bond; resulting in Jude telling him the entire story of his trauma.
Part Five -titled “The Happy Years”, might just be my favorite part, because it focuses on the happy moments that Willem and Jude share with each other. Jude’s legs worsen and we see that he has to amputate his legs and use prosthetics instead. The surgery is successful and his prosthetics fit him well; allowing him to do normal tasks in his everyday life. Willem and Jude have a happy time with each other, but at the end of this part, Willem gets into an accident with Malcolm & Malcolm’s wife – Sophie, when he picks the two of them up from the train station. Sadly, all three of them don’t survive.
In Part Six – we see that Jude is battling grief as much as he can for about a year from Willem’s death. Seeing that his two best friends have died, he resorts to drugs and refuses to eat. causing his prosthetics to not fit him. Andy decides to give up service, which devastates him even more and he tries his best to forgive JB, which now hangs as “an awkward formal friendship that cannot be rekindled.”
In Part Seven – “Lispenard Street,” JB is the one to discover that Jude has taken his life and Harold is the one who recounts the event happening. Harold is eighty four and JB is sixty one, while Jude’s other friends are now dead and had died within the first two to three years of Jude’s death as well.
Although I didn’t show much emotion as some readers did when they read this book, I did feel disturbed. This book has the potential to break you down bit by bit until at some point. you realize that digesting the trauma because it makes you think a lot about the characters and you’re deeply attached to the characters by the end of Part One (or Part 2, I don’t know). My favorites were Willem and Jude – well mostly Jude but the dynamic between Willem and Jude was so surreal, and I think I lived in those pages for quite a bit.
Here are a series of excerpts from the book of the parts that I loved and related quite a bit to:
Rating – Without a doubt, five on five stars. I’d suggest that you read the warnings for the book before you continue (which I didn’t do, my bad), so that you know what you’re getting into before reading it. Also, the book is 800 pages, so if you’re looking for a long read (or wanting to cure big book fear), I think this could be your best choice.