A Little Life

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Another book down on my project to read the not-previously-read books on the New York Times Best Books of the Past 125 Years.

Executive summary: not my cup of tea. There's no question that it's fine writing. The author, Hanya Yanagihara, peppers the 720 page book with Proust-like descriptions and deep character insights. (Not that I've read Proust, but I've heard about him.) The Wikipedia page quotes one critic calling it "the long-awaited gay novel".

I may have never read a less gay novel. Glumness pervades. Fresh dreadfulness is never more than a few dozen pages away.

The book's flap, and many summaries, will tell you that the book is about four college classmates that try to make their living in New York. It really centers on one of them, Jude. He's brilliant, on a lucrative career path as a lawyer. But he's got physical woes. And mental woes. And those woes feed on each other in self-destructive ways. His past life is mysterious, hidden from his friends and colleagues. His secrets are horrible, and are gradually revealed in flashbacks. Nothing is his fault, really, but he is cruelly used by a series of ill-meaning people.

But (good news) he has a few saintlike friends as well. They try without letup to save Jude from himself. Do they succeed? Well, you're gonna have to read it yourself to find out, like I did. Or read that Wikipedia page.

Random Observation: I am pretty sure the most common dialog in the book is "I'm sorry", and variations thereon. One paragraph (page 673) has eight occurances of "I'm sorry". People have a lot to be sorry for here.

Although most of the characters start out struggling in the big city, they all get rich pretty quickly. Easily one-percenters, outstanding in their respective fields. Casual trips to France, Morocco, Bhutan, etc. are made. Gourmet restaurants are patronized. (Ms. Yanagihara does her homework: you may not have dined at a restaurant where "sablefish with tobiko" is served, but she has.) Dwellings are luxurious and (eventually) owned in multiple places. And when they buy suits, they don't go to Men's Wearhouse; they have their guys who make suits.

In any case: only three left to go!

[UPDATE 2024-04-24: For a general comment on these sort of books, with this one as a specific example, see Alan Jacobs on his rational choices for knowing what not to read.]

Last Modified 2024-04-24 10:22 AM EDT