Hanya Yanagihara - A Little Life

A book about abuse so long and gruelling that it blurs the previously-unheard-of line between reading and intellectual torture. I finished this book because I needed to know if there had been a point to the layering of horror upon horror: Genius? (Is it all - life - worth it?) Pompous? (Look how crappy I can make you feel!) Insightful? (Stare directly into the abuse, do not shrug away) Exploitive? (Pile on the tragedy for the sake of entertainment!). 

It’s one of those books where you want to give the author credit because writing anything that long is a triumph and the characters are theoretically interesting, but where you also wonder if perhaps this is a call for help of some kind. I gave it leeway, thinking that the person who wrote the book must feel compelled to raise awareness for an issue - but then discovered afterwards the author has repeatedly been criticized for not doing any research at all. So I spent 700 pages submersed in fictional abuse without actually learning anything about the real-life issue, struggles of victims, and struggles of the people who want to help those victims. What was the point?

I walked away from the book wondering, not if life is worth it, but if this book itself was worth it. Why would an author feel the need to make so many people feel so awful for so long? Am I a bad person because I don’t actually like any of these characters? Because empathy was displaced by annoyance about 40% of the way into the book? 

What bugged me throughout the book was how much it felt like an adult, overwrought version of teen romance novels. In the teen novels, the plot goes something like this: girl who doesn’t think she’s super special has a problem, like a flat tire, and special boy drives buy, fixes tire, and also determinadly falls in love with her despite her own insecurities; he’s just so overcome with affection for her specialness that he can’t help himself. “Because she’s special” is the deus ex machina that is supposed to explain the entire novel. It didn’t work when I was 14 and it’s not working now.

In this book, Jude is just so uber-special that his entire adult life is spent collecting enormously wealthy and successful people who seem to have nothing better to do than to dote on him. He’s like a one-man Katamari Damacy of the New York elite. 

On top of that, the fact that Jude is also supposed to be a genius, highly attractive, a talented musician, a fine chef, an active swimmer, a world-traveller, etc etc makes his life pretty “perfect” (barring his relentless unhappiness). I couldn’t help but think about what a real person in his (preposterous) situation might actually have turned out like and how out of reach things like education, free 24/7 health care, multiple homes, free architectural services, etc. would be. I just couldn’t buy it.