Hello lovers. Welcome (back) to campus and welcome (back) to my âLiv on the Edgeâ column. It’s a safe space in which I dissect the things I love – like movies, music, books, relationships, and politics – and things I’ve been thinking about recently – like anxiety, ending of the world and aging, among other things.
This summer, I spent the majority of my time at home in Illinois, contemplating my sanity and reading books in the safety of my childhood bedroom. It’s a strange and emotional landscape, the bedroom of childhood – and, in my opinion, the best place to read Hanya Yanagihara’s heartbreaking novel “A Little Life”.
“A Little Life” is about childhood, adulthood, drug addiction, sexual abuse, love and, of course, life itself. The novel chronicles the lives of four adult men in New York City over several decades, bound to each other by their intense platonic love. It is one of the few novels I have ever come across that focuses on male friendship, and one of the few that deals with life and love in such a comprehensive form.
Released in 2015, the book first received critical acclaim and ended up as a finalist for the National Book Award. In the years that followed, however, criticism was raised about Yanagihara’s too strong obsession with difficult themes. That’s a whopping 814 pages, and each page is getting harder and harder to swallow. Recently, one of my creative writing teachers contacted me and asked me what I had read this summer. âA little life,â I told him. âAh,â she replied. âThe novel that breaks friendships. ”
Indeed, one of the reasons I bought âA Little Lifeâ was its mixed reviews which I read online. In The New Yorker, reviewer Jon Michaud argues that these mixed reviews are the product of Yanagihara’s portrayal of graphic violence. One of the main characters, Jude, suffers from extreme depression and harms himself several times throughout the novel. Yanagihara doesn’t mention this as a fact, however – she demonstrates it on stage, and continues to demonstrate it on stage, until the end of the novel. Jude’s self-harm, Michaud writes in his 2015 article “The subversive brilliance of” A Little Life “” “is described with a frankness which might make some readers uncomfortable [â¦] the graphic representations of abuse and physical suffering found in “A Little Life” are rare in mainstream literary fiction. ”
Sexual abuse is another violence featured in Yanagihara’s book. In order to avoid spoiling the slow, quivering character story reveal, I won’t mention which of the characters endures such abuse, but it’s written in such vivid detail that I found myself having to shut down the novel and let it go. for a moment. Not only is the abuse itself difficult to read, but it’s made even more difficult by Yanagihara’s tactic of mercilessly tearing apart a character’s carefully detailed backstory and childhood with one vile act of violence. without mercy. âWhat makes the treatment of abuse and suffering in this book subversive,â writes Michaud, âis that it offers no possibility of redemption and deliverance beyond these tender moments. This gives us a moral universe in which such spiritual salvation does not exist.
Since such spiritual salvation does not exist, Yanagihara seems to argue, then we can only derive meaning from our lives as we live them – from our friends, from our art and from our lovers. The main four characters are artists, and the book is steeped in otherworldly details of art and beauty. There are prominent homosexual characters as well, and the book is forged with conversations about homosexuality and love. However, these conversations do not take hold of the novel’s foreground. They are just one ingredient in the ultra-emotional soup that is âA Little Lifeâ.
For this reason, some hailed the novel as an “amazing and ambitious chronicle of queer life in America” ââ- as Garth Greenwell did in his 2015 article on the Atlantic. “A little life: The great gay novel could be here. Of the four main characters, Greenwell writes, only one “unambiguously embodies an immediately recognizable and unambiguous gay identity.” Yanagihara refuses to explicitly label the other three as one sexuality or another, which Greenwell argues justifies its position as the great gay novel of the century.
Additionally, Yanagihara refuses to define the time period in which the novel takes place – there is no reference to the current president or the political era, thus forever suspending the story and sparing characters, like the writes Greenwell, âthe familiar tales of gay fiction,â such as the anxiety encountered in the aftermath of the AIDS epidemic or the lingering uncertainty / frustration in political debates over same-sex marriage and mainstream acceptance. The characters are quite simply – they live, breathe, and exist as realistically and sincerely as you and me.
“A Little Life” is extremely dark and depressing, and although it completely destroyed me, it also completely changed my outlook on life. They are the most vivid and realistic characters that I have read in a work of fiction in a long time, and, despite their little lives being painted in the immense beauty of Yanagihara’s handwriting, they are not. always only that – small lives. As we enter into this new school year, I urge you to pay attention to the aspects of your life that make it meaningful, even if they are very small.