I don’t know how to write this blog post, I’ve never read something so upsetting and disturbing (mind you, well written) than A Little Life. I really don’t think Beloved even holds a candle to how devastating this novel is (besides the reminder that Beloved is based on a true story). If only Lemony Snicket had been narrating from the beginning, urging me to set the book down and pick up something more uplifting. I joke, but really, this was a tough read purely due to the content, not the writing style.
A Little Life starts off telling the story of four young men, soon after college, who live in NYC and are trying to figure out their lives. It seems so relatable at first, but then it eventually narrows in to focus on one of the four men, Jude. We know early on that Jude had a terrible childhood, but it takes nearly the whole 724 pages of the novel to find out just how horrific it was.
I told my mom the plot of this novel and she, a woman who hears devastating stories about prisoners on a regular basis, almost didn’t want me to continue reading. “You shouldn’t have to read all this at your age .” There’s rape, there’s near murder, there’s torture, there’s deep deep depression, and so much more. Yanagihara is vivid with her descriptions and without reading it yourself, there’s no way for me to emphasize just how awful the story is (emphasis on this being the content, not that it’s a bad novel).
I think it does a terrific job of making you realize how little you know about other people’s lives, how you can be friends with someone for years and still not understand their past. Someone that may seem to have everything in the world may have had nothing in their past and we should never make assumptions about anyone.
I think everyone understands the concept of ‘You never know what’s going on in someone else lives,’ but day in and day out (and I’m just as much a culprit of this as anyone else) we don’t apply this concept to the real world. We bump into someone on the subway and swear at them, not considering that they could have had a terrible day and likely meant no actual harm to you. Admittedly, living in a way where you always considered what sad thing is happening in someone else’s life would be a depressing way to live, but being a little more understanding would do us all some good. Regardless, I’m not about to sit here and preach so with that, I’ll put some quotes below and just know that if you read this story, it will be tough. Do so at your own risk, I warned you.
“Friendship was witnessing another’s slow drip of miseries, and long bouts of boredom, and occasional triumphs. It was feeling honored by the privilege of getting to be present for another person’s most dismal moments, and knowing that you could be dismal around him in return.”
“We all say we want our kids to be happy, only happy, and healthy, but we don’t want that. We want them to be like we are, or better than we are. We as humans are very unimaginative in that sense. We aren’t equipped for the possibility that they might be worse. But I guess that would be asking too much. It must be an evolutionary stopgap – if we were all so specifically, vividly aware of what might go horribly wrong, we would none of us have children at all.”
“He now viewed a successful relationship as one in which both people had recognized the best of what the other person had to offer and had chosen to value it as well.”
Next up, The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien…