To paraphrase Tolstoy, great novels are not all alike. Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life, for example, is like no other novel. It is an epic novel that follows several characters over decades. But what sets A Little Life apart is the depth of its characterizations. The characters in A Little Life are fully realized, complex and not at all predictable. They are also interconnected completely. Co-dependency isn’t a dirty word to them. When a childless couple decides to adopt a grown man, it isn’t entirely surprising. Though approximately the same length as The Fountainhead, A Little Life is the anti-Ayn Rand novel. In Yanagihara’s world, no man (or woman) is an island. A Little Life is the story of how people not only depend on each other, but beyond that, how they are shaped by and even defined by each other.
At the heart of this story is Jude, a brilliant man who is tormented by a horrific childhood. His response to this is to cut himself: to literally take a razor blade to his skin and watch it bleed. It is to Ms. Yanagihara’s credit that this queer reader found these sections to be almost too painful to read. On several occasions I actually found myself looking away from the book. Her detailed descriptions are grisly, ghastly–as they should be. A Little Life isn’t exactly an easy read, but this queer reader found it to be compelling and, near the end, almost impossible to put down.
Ms. Yanagihara doesn’t serve up a cliched happy ending here. For while A Little Life is about how some people can help each other, it is also about how some people can harm each other deeply. And sometimes that harm is irreparable.
Needless to say, Queer Reader strongly recommends this novel.
Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life is published by Knopf.