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Archived 2016 Group Reads > A Little Life - Part I - Lispenard Street

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message 1: by Dianne (last edited Jul 20, 2016 05:56PM) (new)

Dianne | 1263 comments Posts on Part I


message 2: by Dianne (new)

Dianne | 1263 comments What are your thoughts on Part I of the book? A few questions for you all below, or just post your general thoughts!

- Do you think that the characters are believable? Are their friendships?
-What do you think about the title of the novel at this point, what do you think it means?
-I think this book is partly unique because it is so heavily focused on inner thoughts and feelings vs plot driven, do you think this was an effective technique?
-Thoughts on the general lack of women in the book?


message 3: by Ami (last edited Jul 22, 2016 04:31PM) (new)

Ami Oh "boy"...Every pun intended.

I am coming in to reading this novel without knowing much about the author or the narrative. All I knew was that it was going to be gut wrenching. I have a feeling "A Little Life" is going to have a sadistic effect on its reader (me) with all of the hardware, so nicely built, in the preliminary eighty-one pages.

It started out rather hit and miss where, like the three friends, I was only drawn to Jude & Willem, and driven nuts by JB because he seems to have this nervous self-serving energy that rubs me the wrong way. In fact, he reminds me of a character, Poor Tony Krause, from Infinite Jest...A flamboyant drag queen with Daddy issues who once had a lot of potential, but whose life proceeds to spin out of control due to his own vices. The tone set by JB gives me pause at this point...He's soulful and believes in his art, he's driven, yet comes off very out of control. I thought it was interesting how JB likes to control everything and everybody around him, but he himself is rather scattered. As the story progresses, Malcom came into my good graces...He's giving to his friends, especially Jude and Willem because they are not as financially sound like he is. Malcolm has daddy issues as well, but there's a humility about him, something I don't see in JB who most of the time is rather selfish.

My two favorite characters, thus far, I don't have much to say about ironically enough because what I'm most intrigued by is obvious...The story built around Jude and his background, and the bond between him and Willem. It's what both hooks and motivates me to continue reading. I already felt a sense of foreboding for some of the characters with their precarious personalities and lives. While reading Malcolm's section, on page sixty-five, he talks about his job and being slightly disenchanted with the company he chose to work for; but I zeroed in on ...and the only thing he had to concentrate on was the clean blade stroke of a line, the ruler's perfect knife edge. There's a heavy handedness with the sadness associated with each individual character so far, but the words in bold rendered feelings that were so much more dire than just being sad...There is evidence of both literal and figurative pain experienced by all the main characters, some characters who exemplify it more than others. Also, didn't you think it was interesting how this line is then followed by Jude's cutting habit "and" his "supposed" suicide attempt?

"A Little Life," and its meaning so far
It's about the smallest influence having the greatest impact..It's about Jude, who appears meek, but is really quite a magnanimous personality and the ricochet effect one individual can have on the rest of his friends?

Believable Friendships...Lack of Women
Yes, I do think the friendships are believable, unfortunately. I say unfortunately because there's a pink elephant in the room every time those friends are together and nobody will address the issue, but then again, we are talking a group of guy friends. I'm not saying men don't share meaningful bonds with one another, some men just have a different way of going about it and forging deep ties with one another. I think if these men were women, "somebody" within the group would have felt the need to approach Jude...It's safe to say we're nurturers at the core...Some more than others. This being said, I don't think it's necessarily a "thing(?)" in this novel, so far, that it doesn't have many women; in fact, I didn't even notice. What I was wondering is...Is it really a true friendship if we see our friends under emotional duress and not address it with them...Do they really value their relationships with one another...IDK? I guess I'll find out though. :)

I like how there is such a great importance placed upon race and financial stability; specifically, the inequality experienced in both. Just to have it straight...Jude has dark skin and hair, but his race has not been determined as of yet (correct?), Willem is Icelandic/Danish, Malcolm is the product of a biracial family Caucasian/Granada, and JB is Haitian. Is this right?

I'll be honest, I'm not ever propelled to read novels because of the hype that surrounds them, and "A Little Life" has had its run of it...At least I don't like to read them immediately. I put it on my TBR last summer because I felt it was something I "had" to read based on recommendations, or something I "should" read because of its "gut wrenching" potential. At present, I still had no intention of reading "A Little Life," I really thought I would pick it up at some point further in the future; however, now I find myself "wanting" to read it, which is exciting ...It is so far a pleasant "little" surprise.


message 4: by Dianne (new)

Dianne | 1263 comments Ami wrote: "Oh "boy"...Every pun intended.

I am coming in to reading this novel without knowing much about the author or the narrative. All I knew was that it was going to be gut wrenching. I have a feeling "..."


Ami, some really great thoughts here! I think the fact that this is a group of guy friends really does have a large impact, although this group is more sensitive to each other's needs and feelings than most, and probably as close as a group of guy friends could get, there is still a sense of 'boundaries' and not a concern to not pry. I suspect also that the friends may be afraid that Jude will just drop them if they try to come too close.

Meaning of title - interesting thoughts Ami! I had thought somehow it related to Jude's minimizing the worth of his own life. Or maybe just that in reading the book you are immersed in his life?

re Race and stability - wealth is such a huge insulator, and here Malcolm doesn't connect with african american culture because he has been so far removed from the historical and cultural experience of pain, lack of opportunity and disconnectedness. I love that this is a mixed group of friends, I think you have their backgrounds correct. It's not totally clear what background Jude is, at times he seems to be described as if his hair and skin are almost gold.

I had a bit of trepidation about picking up this book as well, because I heard some great reviews, and some terrible reviews. Ultimately I decided that if a book can draw that strong of a reaction, from that many people, then it was worth reading. Luckily I ended up in the big fan club rather than the group of haters.


message 5: by Ami (last edited Jul 23, 2016 06:20AM) (new)

Ami Dianne wrote: "Ami wrote: "Oh "boy"...Every pun intended.

I am coming in to reading this novel without knowing much about the author or the narrative. All I knew was that it was going to be gut wrenching. I have..."


I had thought somehow it related to Jude's minimizing the worth of his own life. Or maybe just that in reading the book you are immersed in his life?
I agree with you, it's about how Jude sees himself versus how the world tends to see him...His minimizing self worth is magnified in such a way where Jude is actually "larger" than life. You articulated it much better than I. :)

re Race and stability
Yes, Malcolm is far removed but he's biracial, a product of ...Is it his father who is from Grenada and mother is Caucasian, I don't remember? It's understandable he would be removed, at this point from what we know of him. I think Malcolm was insulated to a certain point by his socioeconomic environment and the doors that are open to him because of it, but that doesn't mean he didn't experience his own adversity. It upsets me when JB gives Malcolm a hard time for the level of "blackness" he exemplifies, or lack there of, by calling him an "Uncle Tom" and whatever else. It's all about perception and who you ask; for example, and from what I read in a Washington Post article a few years ago, black voters tend to consider our current president to be "black" while most others consider him biracial...Isn't this interesting? Is it possible that this correlates into the narrative with JB being a Haitian black questioning how Malcolm identifies himself? Also, I didn't get the feeling Malcolm identifies one way or another. He knows what he is and his racial identity does not sit at the center of his life like it does for JB where it's very prevalent in the forefront. There was a moment where the boys were on their bunk beds and JB made a comment about how it appeared their grouping on the beds ignited a "whites v. blacks" theme. Malcolm quips, but I'm not black only to find out he said it to ..(mostly to annoy JB). I don't think Malcolm can be held responsible to really understanding the black man's plight in our world, because again, he's not "just" black ...I think he is able to sympathize but not truly empathize and embrace like JB does. Did the racial identity aspect affect your reading experience at all, were you aware of its importance and how it ends up playing out in the rest of the novel?

although this group is more sensitive to each other's needs and feelings than most...I suspect also that the friends may be afraid that Jude will just drop them if they try to come too close.
Yes, I agree with your statement 100%! They are more sensitive to each other's needs and yes, there seems to be some notion that Jude will abandon them if they attempt to get too close. Jude does have that "leave on my own before I am left" mentality... He's such an impactful character, I can feel how his energy affects his friends because Jude is doing the same thing to me.

Luckily I ended up in the big fan club rather than the group of haters.
This being said, what is it like reading "A Little Life" for the second time...Does it elicit the same emotions and thoughts as it did the first time? I should ask you this at the end, but taking into account this first section, is the experience different for you this time around?


message 6: by Catherine (new)

Catherine (catsmeeow) Wow great discussion so far!

I agree that a lot of the narrative seems to swing between race and socio-economics.

The friendships seem really believable to me and interestingly, unlike Ami, I want to read more about JB and Malcolm. I feel like how they still seem kind of self absorbed but are good friends to the others. It's also interesting to me how Malcolm just tries to fit in by hiding his wealth and he wants independence but his wealth holds him hostage. Comfort has its own trappings. I feel like with all four characters they have a mix of different characters that everyone can relate to.

I kind of hope that some interesting female characters will show up soon but overall I'm glad I picked this chunks get and am excited to see where it goes next!


message 7: by Ami (new)

Ami Catherine wrote: "Wow great discussion so far!

I agree that a lot of the narrative seems to swing between race and socio-economics.

The friendships seem really believable to me and interestingly, unlike Ami, I w..."


I want to read more about JB and Malcolm.
Good! Then we'll balance each other out. Although, it's funny because I have so much more to say about JB and Malcolm. Jude has me wrapped up in a tight ball, I'm finding it very difficult to flesh him out in my mind and convey my thoughts about him properly. Willem, so far, is mostly a buffer character for Jude in my eyes.

Comfort has its own trappings.
What a perfect truth and so fitting for Malcolm.


message 8: by Catherine (new)

Catherine (catsmeeow) Oops so I just realized I had read chapter 1 instead of part 2. I am ACTUALLY on par now! Now I can see why you were all so interested in Jude. His story was terrifying and you keep wanting Willem to just go on and confront him along with foreshadowing of something terrible to come.

Ok now Malcolm seems a lot less interesting. He's so trapped that he's pretty much stuck in life and although I can relate, feeling similar right after graduation, that doesn't seem like an interesting character for a story.

JB still seems so self absorbed and interesting though!! His attempts at art and defining Malcolm's race identity for him just is so over the top. I found it touching when he finally found his calling by painting all his friends and it was a way for him to finally SEE them for themselves. It's like he was also able to start building empathy. He also seems like a really loyal friend, ready to stand up for the others when someone outside their group is digging at one


message 9: by Dianne (new)

Dianne | 1263 comments Ami wrote: "Dianne wrote: "Ami wrote: "Oh "boy"...Every pun intended.

I am coming in to reading this novel without knowing much about the author or the narrative. All I knew was that it was going to be gut wr..."


Ami, w/r/t your questions, I honestly don't think the racial aspect played too heavily for me, although I did make a note of it. For Jude, I thought it was a detail about him, but almost as an aside, like, a detail like, this person likes sushi, or, he has a cat. For Malcolm and JB I totally agree with your views on how each views the import (or lack thereof) of race on their life.

As far as reading it again, since I know what is coming, it is not as traumatizing, and I skip over the 'bad' parts. But as in any great book that you reread, I pick up on clues earlier on and the whole book has more meaning as a whole.


message 10: by Dianne (new)

Dianne | 1263 comments Catherine wrote: "Wow great discussion so far!

I agree that a lot of the narrative seems to swing between race and socio-economics.

The friendships seem really believable to me and interestingly, unlike Ami, I w..."


As I read more in the novel these two definitely seem like supporting characters, and the whole novel really seems to revolve around Jude.


message 11: by Dianne (new)

Dianne | 1263 comments Catherine wrote: "Wow great discussion so far!

I agree that a lot of the narrative seems to swing between race and socio-economics.

The friendships seem really believable to me and interestingly, unlike Ami, I w..."


As I read more in the novel these two definitely seem like supporting characters, and the whole novel really seems to revolve around Jude.


message 12: by Dianne (new)

Dianne | 1263 comments Catherine wrote: "Oops so I just realized I had read chapter 1 instead of part 2. I am ACTUALLY on par now! Now I can see why you were all so interested in Jude. His story was terrifying and you keep wanting Willem ..."

much I want to respond but would give it away! I'll address in a later section post :)


message 13: by Kaycie (new)

Kaycie | 294 comments Woah, such a great discussion so far!

I came into this read thinking it was very nice and big and going to last me the summer. WRONG! I can't stop reading it! The writing just draws me right in and I feel like I am living in the little apartment on Lispenard street with Jude and Willem. Its just fantastic.

I absolutely think that the friends and their friendship is believable. I think Ami is right about the difference between girl and guy friendships, though - that a girl would have asked Jude more information by now - but I don't think that makes the guy's friendship seem less believable at all. More believable if anything, since I know quite a few guys who would never ask their friends things like this. I also agree with the thoughts that Jude would leave if people tried to pry too much into his past, anyways, and I am sure the guys sense this.

I guess unlike some other readers, I am still quite interested in all of the friend's stories. I can see that Jude is the center of the novel, but all of the characters seem so real and vivid that I find myself wanting to know them all a bit better. I know that we are going to learn a lot about Jude, but I hope that we can also learn a lot about the other 3 as well.

I don't really have too many more thought-out comments or questions by this point...I just know I want more of this! On to part II!


message 14: by Alana (new)

Alana (alanasbooks) | 456 comments I'm still a bit on the fence on this one. Granted, I haven't had as much time to devote to it (after all, the new Harry Potter came out the other day, can you blame me?) but the bits I've been able to read here and there mostly leave me feeling "meh." I feel like I WILL be drawn in with these characters as the story progresses, but it hasn't happened yet. They mostly seem like a bunch of young kids drifting and trying to find themselves (to make sense of their "little" lives?) and I relate very little to that phase of life anymore.

The racial issue is interesting, because even though they have all been described in their racial background, I keep having the hardest time picturing any of them or keeping them straight. I can't seem to attach a personality to each of them as they relate to their ethnic heritage. Maybe that's a good thing, as in personality doesn't have to be associated with ethnicity? Maybe the characters (to me) are just written too similarly? Maybe I'm just not as engaged with it because I don't tend to be drawn to introspective books? Or maybe I'm just not deep enough yet into the pages for the personalities to really start separating in my head. We shall see.

I really liked the description of the art space set apart for all of the artists and their different creative inspirations. I could vividly imagine the photography project and the effect that he's trying to go for. Makes me want to see it in a gallery :)


message 15: by Ami (new)

Ami Alana wrote: "I'm still a bit on the fence on this one. Granted, I haven't had as much time to devote to it (after all, the new Harry Potter came out the other day, can you blame me?) but the bits I've been able..."

I can't say I was particularly attached to any one thing, as I mentioned in my post, but I did feel the weight of the story quite early on. Does Jude's character not elicit any added interest in these pages, or is he rather bland like the rest as of yet too?


message 16: by Alana (new)

Alana (alanasbooks) | 456 comments I'm a little further in than I was before (I am reading on the Nook and the page count is different, so I thought I was further than I was). I can differentiate between them a little better now; JB seems like a big prick. I do like Malcolm's introspection on the "black issue" and how he seems to be going at it from multiple angles. He's not afraid to consider the downsides of racial identity (looking back instead of forward, the fact that a black man can get away with a project involving not speaking to white men, but if a white man did the same thing, it works be racist, etc) and the positive (family history that connects, the drive to overcome, etc).

I know nothing about the author: what is his/her racial background? How much does that influence the thoughts of the characters? How much is perspective influenced by NYC, or by characters that grew up in the country, well outside that sphere? Haha, guess I'm going into a "nurture vs nature" question.


message 17: by Dianne (last edited Aug 18, 2016 10:16AM) (new)

Dianne | 1263 comments Alana wrote: "I'm a little further in than I was before (I am reading on the Nook and the page count is different, so I thought I was further than I was). I can differentiate between them a little better now; JB..."

Hanya Yangihara has the blurb I pasted below on her wiki entry, I think she definitely had a bird's eye view of NYC life and that is portrayed in the book. I think the friends are more supporting characters and the real story is about Jude and really not plot driven at all. Still, like Ami I was drawn into the story pretty early, wanting to know, what the heck happened to Jude, anyways???

Yanagihara was born in Los Angeles, California to a father who was a doctor from Hawaii and a mother who was born in Seoul. She frequently moved around the United States as a child, due to her father's occupation. The family lived in multiple locations, including Hawaii, New York, Baltimore, Maryland, California, and Texas.


message 18: by Alana (last edited Aug 18, 2016 08:45PM) (new)

Alana (alanasbooks) | 456 comments That's definitely some culture blending! Her mother is from Seoul, but I wonder about her father's ethnic background, based on her name. Is it a married name or her father's name? Was she more influenced by her mother's background culture or her father's? I guess we'll find out as we keep reading :)


message 19: by Ami (new)

Ami Dianne wrote: "Alana wrote: "I'm a little further in than I was before (I am reading on the Nook and the page count is different, so I thought I was further than I was). I can differentiate between them a little ..."

Hanya Yangihara has the blurb I pasted below on her wiki entry, I think she definitely had a bird's eye view of NYC life and that is portrayed in the book.
Yeah, but this was also a criticism of hers as well. I think it's better discussed in the final thread, so I'll post there.


message 20: by Alana (new)

Alana (alanasbooks) | 456 comments I finally finished this first section (I'm not sure why it took me so long, just busy, I guess). I see what everyone is saying about Jude: what in the world is wrong with these guys? I guess I can understand not wanting to change the status quo, not wanting to get into someone else's business, etc, but good grief, the guy cuts himself so that he's bleeding through a towel, then does NOT insist on going to the ER, and everyone just ignores this? The rest of them just accept that he "burned" himself? I think you're right, a woman would have eventually gotten into a fight with him about it and gotten some answers. But, again, not being the person in that position....

The getting stuck on the roof was more comical to me than it probably should have been, but I can just imagine a bunch of guys I knew from my college days finding themselves in a situation like that. *shakes head* silly boys....

I guess we'll probably discuss this as we go through the book, but how well do we think she, as a female author, is doing at getting into the minds of male characters?


message 21: by Dianne (new)

Dianne | 1263 comments Alana wrote: "I finally finished this first section (I'm not sure why it took me so long, just busy, I guess). I see what everyone is saying about Jude: what in the world is wrong with these guys? I guess I can ..."

These are great questions Alana! It's such a travesty that the friends don't push Jude more, is that just guy etiquette? Or are they afraid he will shut off?

How the author gets into the minds of the characters.... Such a great question! It really seems as if she was interviewing these guys and taking notes, that it was a diary more than a novel. I think she did an absolutely amazing job. I assume , based on absolutely nothing, that maybe she had friends like this?


message 22: by Alana (new)

Alana (alanasbooks) | 456 comments In one of my in-person book clubs yesterday, we were discussing a book a noting how it's a male author trying to portray a female character and the character coming out somehow flat, underdeveloped as a person. We ended up debating about males writing about females vs. females writing about males and we couldn't decide if we often find that females are better at it because we are females and we just THINK they're usually better, or if males would disagree that the male characters that we as women feel are well-written, actually aren't. (sorry awkward sentence). Basically, do we only think women tend to create better male characters because we aren't male and can't compare well? And can the same be said for male authors writing about females?

Interestingly, in the group, only one of the women felt that the female character in question was very flat, and the rest of us just felt she was a little flat, but not out of the ordinary. This sparked the debate of do the rest of us just not notice it because we're so used to reading so many stories by male authors that we are just used to how their female characters sound and the discrepancy doesn't faze us anymore?

None of this may have any bearing on this story at all, but I'm always curious when an author chooses to set as their main character someone of the opposite gender and in what ways we judge the author on that. I'm curious how I'll answer that question myself as I continue reading.

(Sorry for length and not explaining myself very well!)


message 23: by Dianne (new)

Dianne | 1263 comments Alana wrote: "In one of my in-person book clubs yesterday, we were discussing a book a noting how it's a male author trying to portray a female character and the character coming out somehow flat, underdeveloped..."

i can't recall a female character being written by a male author as coming out particularly flat, but I can't say I've really paid attention to that either. I wonder if men reading this feel like it is an accurate portrayal, for all I know they don't!


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