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Niagara on the Lake, Ontario, Canada
My virtue is that I say what I think, my vice that what I think doesn't amount to much.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

A Little Life

A Little Life is a hefty (more than 700 pages) novel by Hanya Yanagihara and reading it has taken up a good chunk of my own little life, not that I'm complaining. It opens with four college graduates of a prestigious university who have moved to New York to start their careers. Willem is an aspiring actor, working as a waiter.  JB is a painter who has a job as a receptionist at an artsy magazine. Malcolm is an architect working for a well known firm. Jude, the enigmatic one, is a lawyer. Initially it looks like there will be four parallel stories about the men but A Little Life is about Jude. His history is revealed bit-by-traumatic-bit. One wonders how he can carry on. The truth is that Jude copes with his past by self-mutilating. Despite a loving circle of friends he needs to feel the sting of the razor to set free the demons that reside within his frail, damaged body. The novel revolves around his pain, emotional and physical, and the difficult subject matter made it necessary for me to put the book down when it became too painful to read it. But I was drawn back because it's a damn good story. That being said, there are weaknesses. All four men rise to the top of their respective fields and become rich and famous. What are the odds of that? Jude's problems are so profound that it is unlikely that he could maintain a successful career as a brilliant litigator without his colleagues becoming aware that there was something terribly awry with him. The friends, Jude's adoptive family and his caring physician wring their hands and make only feeble attempts to stop Jude's self destruction. There are no shades of grey. The good people are too caring, too patient and ultimately powerless. The bad guys are beyond villainous and hold all the power. I'm glad I stuck with it to the end but this book is definitely not for everyone. My advice is to read it if you have a lot of time, the ability to suspend disbelief and a strong stomach.

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