Thursday, June 2, 2016
Book: A Little Life - Hanya Yanagihara
Members present: Cindi, Christy, Denise, Shea, Karin, Sharon
Venue: 419 West
This was an ambitious book that was probably beyond the scope of our remedial book club. Nevertheless, 4 out of the 6 of us read the entire thing--which is no small task, given that it was over 700 pages. Shea and Sharon thought that it was ultimately worth it, but I felt manipulated into reading the whole thing because I wanted to know what happened to Jude and almost stopped reading it several times. And by the end I felt ripped off and concluded that the author is sadistic. I tried to do my usual summary but it was so painful to hear even the cliff notes version that Cindi wanted me to stop. If you haven't read the book because you didn't think you would like it, you were probably right.
Having said all of this, there were some positive things about it. The book is well-written. The length of the book allowed for detailed character development, and there were many characters to develop. The relationship between Willem and Jude was by far the best chapter, even though I was pissed off at the end of it. If I ever met someone like Willem in real life, I will reevaluate my stance on never getting married again. He was that loving. Most of us did not think that Willem was actually gay, but rather that he really loved Jude. The depiction of Jude's grief was particularly good in conveying how painful it is to lose the love of your life.
It was difficult to say what the point of the book was as we tried to summarize it. It's sort of like a Shakespearean tragedy in that everyone dies, but with lots of horrifying trauma described in graphic detail. Sharon could not understand how every single guy he ever met wanted to have sex with him, even as a child. We discussed how, despite the fact that Jude's adult life was filled with success and incredibly loving friends, he was never able to feel deserving of love; the damage that was done could never be undone, and his life was never a happy one. At the same time, he was brilliant and exceptional in many ways, despite his history of trauma, even though he had to rely on excessive self-harm to make life bearable. I was also struck by how well the author was able to convey the complexity of things that seem diametrically opposed but equally true. For example, Brother Luke was clearly a monstrous pedophile and pimp, yet he also taught Jude so many of the things that made him exceptional. Or how the period before his adoption, which was the thing that he had wanted his entire life, was one of the times that he was cutting himself the most because it was so difficult to tolerate something good.
We all think that the author must have had some kind of trauma, or was involved with someone who was severely traumatized, because I'm not sure how you could write this book without knowing what it's like to be that damaged. Karin asked if the book got reviews, and it turns out that the reviews were mixed. There is surprisingly little written on the author. In the book, the author description only says that she lives in New York City. In Wikipedia, it says nothing about her personal life other than that she is of Hawaiian decent, and there is no picture of her. She has another book, but I know I don't want to read it. And if this book is ever turned into a movie, I don't think any of us will go see it. Although I do wonder who they would cast as Jude, because he must have been extraordinarily good-looking.
Karin has agreed to host our next meeting, which will be in July at her house at the lake. She has not yet picked a book out, but we all recommended that she choose something lighter and happier.