Still a tearjerker

Hanya Yanagihara. A little life

21 APRIL 2016,
A scene of the movie "Her"
A scene of the movie "Her"

If you consider yourself a big reader because you devour a lot of books in a year, as I do, you know that even when you are submersed in a book, you are always still on the lookout for that next great one that will suck you in and will leave you thinking about it long after you finish it. Plus, being empty handed with nothing to read, that’s horror. Reading equals watching tv shows in many ways: there are too many good ones to keep up with, so the one you choose better be the right one. Life is too short, your spare time is too valuable and you have to keep up with what your friends are watching. So when someone tells you that they read or watched something amazing, all the better. Keeping information like that to yourself should be considered a crime. At least from my perspective.

While most magazines and websites had their best-of-2015 lists published last December, for someone to make up their own mind about their own best-of-list can take a little more time. It is hard to remember everything you read in a year, and can you remember those which you felt were really just mweeh? The ones you do remember are often the ones that were really good. Those that made an impact on you, emotionally, or that taught you something.

Not every book speaks to its readers in the same way. It is a deeply personal thing. And the lingering effect it has on a person can also differ in form. Sometimes a story stays with you, somewhere in the back of your memory, and you carry it around for months or years without telling anyone about it. Because you haven’t even acknowledged to yourself that it made the impact that it did. With movies, the feeling is more instantaneous: You quickly feel it having a big impact on you. With me, this happened with Her and Interstellar. They made me feel like I was watching something special, and afterward I had to tell everyone about it.

A story I carried around for a long time without acknowledging just how good it was, was A little life, by Hanya Yanagihara. When I was reading it the book spoke to me on an emotional level, which for me is kind of unique. But what made it special is that the story lingered in the back of my mind, and now half a year later, I feel that I was part of something extraordinary. And I suspect that anyone that read it must feel the same way, but they just haven’t acknowledged it yet. It is impossible for anyone to read it without feeling something. It also made me more aware of the horrific theme of the book, which is child abuse.

A little life has been widely acclaimed, received several prizes and is seen as one of the best books of 2015. That does not mean that it deserves any less credit now, in April of 2016. It is a story of four friends that move to New York, and it takes place during the greater part of their lives. While the first part of the story will have you believe that it is a kind of all male Sex and the city episode, but very long, the book is really not that. Every character gets their own fifteen minutes of fame, but the story revolves around its main protagonist by the name of Jude.

He is a thoughtful, highly intelligent lawyer and very successful in his field. More importantly, even though he is without spouse, he is loved by many and part of this group of friends that are the stars of this story. You would never guess anything to be wrong with someone that can boast of so much, both in his private and professional life. The interactions of this colorful group of friends, their parties, romantic lives and their careers makes you think of an episode of Friends, because there might be some drama in their lives, but in the end they all love each other unconditionally. And it is a kind of from rags to riches story too, for they have not known wealth early on in their lives. The dynamics of a place like New York City, have them living life very differently, but together. Their friendship is strong, even though they are busy. And I would say that the theme of this book might just be male friendship, because women tend to play a small part in this story. But having said this, the story has sent me down a wrong path.

When the story starts to evolve more around its main character Jude, his personal problems are casually, but gradually introduced. And a little too casual. For they leave you gasping for air. Readers with no prior knowledge on the types of trauma that can be inflicted on children and how these effect them later on in life will experience some kind of reckoning. Like listening in on a very personal and awkward telephone conversation, the things you slowly learn on the main character are things you would just rather not read. Or know about in any way. It can be pretty sickening, and even hard to understand. The deep emotional pain he suffers as an adult that results in extensive auto-mutilation and an inability to have intimate relations with another human being are only a few of the effects of his miserable childhood, details of which come up in flashbacks. Reading about the effect this has on his personal life feels like having a cold hand gripping your heart. When people read about these kind of things, they can only guess where such trauma comes from, but the difference here is that this story reveals it all.

A horrific childhood of sexual abuse and trauma comes to light eventually, and one can only be amazed with how this character still managed to find the will to keep on living. His group of friends and a teacher that came to adopt him were probably his saviors, and kept him going. But what truly breaks your heart is that no matter the love and friendship he has in his life as an adult, there is no escaping his childhood trauma, and it slowly eats away at him. This turns the most heartless reader into an empathic one, for the story will have you personally adopting the trauma and misery of the main character as your own, and make you want to scream at him to find a way to cope. But, since you are only on the sidelines, that is not your place. You will be taken down a path that is so sad, even when it is beautiful. The main character, having suffered such trauma, cannot live with himself, and is slowly destroying himself.

Some expressions of art are a crime to keep to yourself, and this is one of them. Hanya Yanagihara crafted a book unfit for any Hollywood movie, because there is no good ending to be found. But if you want a story to move you, you will want to pick this one up.