A Little Life25 Mar 2015
Let me join the chorus of people claiming this as their favorite book of 2015. There’s a very strong case to be made for that claim, and its only March. I flew through this 700+ page book in 3 short nights, including a cross-country flight. It is a page-turner in the most literary sense. Yanagihara maintained suspense and interest with virtuosic precision. Every time I felt like some resolution was coming my way, she changed perspective, told a different story, revealed another layer in a different corner of Jude’s life. My last few favorite reads have all been 6-700 page works (Goldfinch, Fourth of July Creek, A Little Life) which is making me consider the idea that literature, as a medium, needs that sort of space to truly achieve its goal. That’s a pretty strong challenge to most contemporary novels that try and achieve their goals in 300 pages or less.
This idea is something I was thinking a lot about about watching Selma. Ava Duvernay chose, arguably the right choice, to only depict a small chunk of MLK’s life and the civil rights struggle. Juxtaposed to Spike Lee, whose comparable project Malcolm X featured almost the entirety of its protagonist’s life. I suppose that’s really the answer then, either you go all in and make a 3+ hour movie, or write 700 pages. Or you choose a small sliver and give it proper treatment.
Anyway, back to the book. The thing is, I know people like Jude. Not people who’ve been through as much as he has. But people who are broken. People who can’t ask for what they need. People who don’t even know what they need. I might be betraying myself in writing this as a member of this group. Jude is an extreme example of this. But the big difference between Jude and most people I know who struggle with depression, anxiety, abuse, sordid pasts is that they aren’t as silent as Jude was. For 30 years he let no one in. He let Andy in a little. He let Harold in even less. Even when he was committed, to letting Willem in, he didn’t completely. I don’t blame Jude for this. I couldn’t. I think Jude never saw what was at the end of those conversations. After sharing his stories, he would’ve opened up a new space for himself. To come across new ways of living, new ways of framing his past. As long as those memories stayed inside him, they were never going to take new shape. If he had taken the chance, let those memories out, they may have been reshaped, and he may have found a new life for himself.
This is a warning to be heeded. Make no mistake, silence, bottling up your feelings, keeping your past to yourself (for whatever fear - burdening others, fear of judgment, fear of being ostracized) will kill you. In fact, the only thing I’ve seen that has as much power as the evils people are victim to, is talking, sharing, and asking for help. That’s the ultimate bravery. It’s not possible for everyone, but its the only thing I know that works. I wished, I so wished Jude would’ve found it. He got close, but he never did.