Thursday, July 23, 2015

Book Review: "A Little Life" by Hanya Yanagihara

I'll cut to the chase on this one fairly quickly: Hanya Yanagihara's A Little Life is nothing short of an utter masterpiece. This book is one of the most dazzlingly brilliant, emotionally moving books I've ever read, and it will be a long time before I can get these characters and their story out of my head. And truth be told, as painful as this book was in places, I don't know if I want to be rid of these characters anytime soon.

"It is always easier to believe what you already think than to try to change your mind."

A Little Life spans several decades in the lives of four college friends—Willem, who becomes an actor; Malcolm, an architect; JB, an artist; and Jude, who becomes a lawyer. Each has their own emotional triggers and their challenges, both professionally and personally. While the book focuses on each of the four, it is enigmatic, troubled Jude who serves as the book's anchor and its soul.

I went into this book knowing very little about the plot, mainly what I've outlined above, and I honestly am thankful for it. This is such a powerful book, and as issues were confronted, joyous moments celebrated, and troubling moments lamented over and deeply felt, not knowing what to expect made the impact of the story even more resonant for me.

Yanagihara is a writer of exquisite beauty and she has created fascinating characters; none more so than Jude and Willem. Jude is truly unlike any character I think I've ever come across (and I read a ton of books). Never has a character moved me so, upset me so, and made me feel so powerfully. This is a story that finds wonder in the mundane but also dwells on truly troubling issues as well. Obviously, it is a book about the power of friendship and love—platonic, romantic, filial—but it is also a story of the fragility of emotions, the fears we must confront, and the devastating effects a lack of self-worth can have.

This is a difficult and painful book to read in many places, but even as it tore my heart and made me cry (more than a few times), I couldn't get enough of it. It's amazing that a book of 700-plus pages can feel at once both so weighty and so light, but that is a testament to Yanagihara's talent. I find it hard to believe I will find a better book this year, and I think this may very well be among the top three books I've read in the last several years.

I try not to hype books, nor do I try to give into hype. But read this. In the end, this is a book that needs to be read, with characters who need to be experienced and felt. Just wow.

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