Updated: Jun 10, 2020
Ever seen one of those oversized birdhouses?
Maybe "bookhouse" is a more fitting name, as these Little Free Libraries are where people leave books they've outgrown, or simply books they want to give away. Inside the red wooden structure at the center of my neighborhood, I find a couple of Magic Tree House books, a few copies of Greta Thunberg's No One is Too Small to Make a Difference, and some cookbooks. Certainly, this isn't the sort of place you expect find a book like A Little Life.
Hanya Yanagihara's novel tells the story of "four college classmates--broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition--as they move to New York in search of fame and fortune". But as the book progresses, it becomes clear that this book will not be a light read. Without giving anything away, let's just say that there will be times when you simply have to put it down, because it's too hard to continue. I'll let my fresh-after-finishing-the-book Google Doc ramble (edited to remove spoilers) take over from here:
All of the greatest joys a human could ever experience, along with all the greatest sorrows, disappointments, and atrocities, captured in these 814 pages. Perhaps unknowingly, we read books with certain expectations. We expect a resolution that will leave us content. If not happy, then at least bittersweet and wistful. But real life isn’t like a story, and this story is so, so unflinchingly like real life. It taught you to think like Jude [the main character]. It guided you through the valleys of his mind so many times that, when reading a happy scene, you think “God, I need to savor this before it's taken away”. It taught you to hope beyond measure, to hope that things would get better, that he would get better, because he has before--what’s one more? The elasticity of the human spirit is infinite. Until it’s not. And that’s just it, the worst part of this book is that despite the frustration, the half angry half incredulous queries as to WHY THE AUTHOR WOULD DO THIS I can’t argue, because this is our world. This is how it happens. A Little Life stays true to its title, paints an unsparing picture of our lives, and how very fragile they are. The fear, the unavoidable truth that this is what life IS and this is how life is taken away: without ceremony, without closure. Watching the news every day, seeing people say goodbye, a final goodbye, to a loved one in the ICU. A five year old girl, the youngest patient yet, dead. At five years old. The numbers climbing and climbing, until you become numb, until they lose meaning. This is our reality, can we really bemoan this book for portraying it for what it is?
That was written on April 20th, marking the end of a two week emotional train-wreck. But boy I was wrong; the train-wreck continued to burn for weeks to come, and still emits faint wisps of smoke today. I'll be washing dishes, listening to the playlist I made for the book, and scenes will resurface in my mind, the sorrow still as strong as it was a month ago. This is the kind of book that will make you want to call your friends, your family, everyone you love--just to tell them that you love them. Now this whole post is rather melodramatic, but it's the truth. You may grow to love this book as much as I do now, but make no mistake, it'll destroy you first.
Note: If you do decide to read this book, take a look at the trigger warnings before diving in. It's something I should've done. Please don't read this book unless you feel safe doing so.