I read a lot and am not usually patient enough to read a book as long as Hanya Yanagihara’s book, “A Little Life”. However, I found myself being lulled by the ease with which the novel progressed – the voice and long paragraphs that were more “tell” than “show.”
I found myself engaged in the voyeuristic and suspenseful plot which unfolded slowly through the novel, interspersed with the painful present-day life of the central protagonist, “Jude” (a namesake of another tragic character, “Jude the Obscure.”) Noteworthy also was the tender (that’s the only word for it) depiction of love and loyalty between men as friends and then as lovers. That the book’s author is female and Japanese, writing almost primarily about men (there are few female characters that have any development) is a marvel to behold. I don’t know how many times the words “I’m sorry” were uttered in the novel but I’ll bet there were a lot.
Only an occasional false note in the book appeared to me because I am a musician and a pianist – and that was a description of Jude playing Schumann’s Fantasy on the piano during an episode in which he is upset. That’s an amazingly difficult piece and it was already a reach earlier in the book to believe that he could play Bach Partitas at one point, but the Schumann was too far a stretch for my imagination to follow.
The story is almost unbearably painful. And the ultimate impact on me after reading it was to realize that so many of us are damaged goods walking around under seemingly okay appearances. Sometimes the hurts that we suffered from those who were supposed to be caretakers was repulsive and unforgiveable (as in this novel) or merely “normal” (benign neglect, selfishness, carelessness.) But all of us, it seems, have hidden hurts we are ashamed of and which we tell no one about.
That being said, we can have more compassion for what we don’t know about others (and might never know) that accounts for behavior that we don’t understand from those we care about. This compassion can be intellectual and abstract to help leaven judgment we might otherwise feel – and hopefully might last longer than a little while. That’s a lot to take from reading a novel but there it is.