Monday, July 25, 2016

A Little Life | Hanya Yanagihara

With the almost absurd number of books I manage to read each year, I've become numb to many modern book cliches and have a hard time finding ones I really remember afterward. Recently, however, I finally picked up a copy of Hanya Yanagihara's much-talked about second novel A Little Life and found myself completely in awe and heartbroken by it.

A Little Life follows four classmates - Jude, Willem, JB, and Malcolm - from a prestigious New England university as they move to New York City to begin their lives as adults and carries on through the following three decades. While the story starts off as "lifestyle porn," describing the various parties and little adventurous situations the boys find themselves in, it quickly pulls the reader into Jude's secret suffering and his friends' desperate attempts to help him.

The story continually jumps forward in years, yet Jude's backstory is given in glimpses throughout, with explanations of how he was abused in his past. Despite the sometimes graphic nature of Yanagihara's recounting of Jude's personal history, it never feels sensationalized, but rather doled out just enough at a time for the reader to understand the gravity of his situation without being turned off by the severe events.

It took me almost two months to finish A Little Life - the 700+ pages are an undertaking in themselves, not to mention to incredible sadness dwelling in its pages - and there were sections that were hard to get through (particularly the Caleb chapters). Yet I read the last 200 pages in one sitting, so completely absorbed in the story world, bawling my eyes out for the last 100 pages after a fatal car crash kills one of the most lovable characters (and I never cry during books).

Yanagihara's masterpiece of a novel is well worth all of the attention it's gained over the last year and a half, and it's one of the most moving, devastating, brilliant books I have ever read. Her masterful creation of characters and ability to draw out the reader's empathy for her characters even with their litany of flaws proves its place as a modern classic.
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