Book Review: A Little Life

A Rochester friend, Ellen B. , recommended Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life to me, saying it was the best book she’d ever read. I downloaded it onto my Kindle, all 700+ pages, without a second thought.

I had trouble getting into the book, focused as it is on the story of four college roommates, male, who transplant into a crummy apartment in New York and begin to morph into adulthood. Ho hum. Shades of Mary McCarthy, only with boys. I picked the book up and put it down three or four times before deciding to read the first 100 pages before making a thumbs up or down decision.

In fewer than 100 pages, but more than I’d read in my fits and starts, I was hooked.

This is a dark, intense book — mediated by tender moments of friendship and the sweetness of ordinary life. Normally, when I love a book, I read straight through for hours. Not here. I needed breaks. I needed sunlight and air and the offsetting laughter of children.

We like to think, to hope, that profound early trauma is survivable — that we can go on to have a good life, an ordinary little life with friends and family and Thanksgiving and drives in the fall countryside and even great professional success. Yanagihara, in her main character Jude St. Francis, thinks that. But the shape of that life might be persistently ragged, discolored, truncated, in ways that are hard to imagine much less to read. That insight resonates with my own life, and the people in it, ones that I know grew up with significant early trauma.

I agree with Ellen B. that this is a remarkable book, and recommend that you read it — but perhaps only if you are in a good enough place in your life, a stable enough place, to float safely in the book’s dark currents.

My next book will be something lighter, much lighter, like a Thomas Perry murder mystery.

2 thoughts on “Book Review: A Little Life

  1. Have you read a Man Called Ove or A Gentleman in Moscow? The Good luck of Right Now is another happier one. I am currently reading The Geography of Bliss…..fascinating non fiction!

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