Yanagihara Addresses Tough Issues in “A Little Life”

by Regan Alejo Contributor

Raw. Honest. Powerful. Necessary. Hanya Yanagihara’s “A Little Life” is a heart-wrenching, heartbreaking, and yet heartwarming novel that resonates with our generation and speaks volumes about growing up, chasing success, and facing pain.

The story is centered around four friends: Willem, the handsome and auspicious actor; Malcolm the aspiring architect; JB, the passionate painter; and Jude, the brilliant and tragic mystery of a man. After college, they move to New York City in pursuit of a fresh and exciting start to their young lives.

They face the usual sitcom problems such as being broke in the city in a tiny apartment they can’t afford while barely getting a foot into the door of their dream jobs. Yanagihara addresses these issues with the juvenile excitement they deserve. The nervous exhaustion accompanied by eagerness and anticipation that goes hand in hand with the start of being an adult, moving out, and moving on to the hopefully bigger and brighter future.

As the years progress, things begin to darken. Secrets of the past and anxieties of the present are revealed. Jude in particular is brought into the light. His story and trauma unfold and his closest companions are forced to process the new information that is slowly being disclosed.

While it may seem like it’s all about suffering and distress though, “A Little Life” is a moving story that calls attention to friendship and human connection in the wake of life’s many hardships. The relationships between the men take hit after hit, yet they seem to grow closer with each obstacle faced.

By the end of the book, Yanagihara has firmly addressed things like abuse, trauma, depression and anxiety in one of the most real and honest ways imaginable. Within the confines of the covers, she fearlessly dove into dark to push her readers outside of the comforts of casual small talk and into the arms of truth and what it truly means to be human.

When you read “A Little Life” you come out a different person. I read it for the first time this June. Then I read it for the second time at the end of August. Even reading the book twice in such quick succession didn’t leave me with enough though. I needed more time with the characters. More time to breathe in the beautiful and tragic novel that seemed nearly personal. I felt devoured and immersed and touched and whole in a broken kind of way, a feeling you only get with certain books. A special kind of connection.

Yanagihara shows readers that it’s all right to feel things deeply, acknowledging that things aren’t always sunshine and rainbows, even in fiction. She spins a tale that strikes to the core but provides solace and comfort within the same string.

I can say with honest conviction that “A Little Life” is the most influential book in my life. Reading it felt like a war within me. Each chapter broke me down a little more. In the end though, I was changed for the better.

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