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Archived 2016 Group Reads > A Little Life - Part III - Vanities

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message 1: by Dianne (new)

Dianne | 1265 comments Posts on Part III


message 2: by Ami (last edited Jul 24, 2016 08:03AM) (new)

Ami A band made up of a lesbian trio and they call themselves, "Backfat..." Alright, this is exactly what I needed to read at the turn of the last page in "The Postman!" I laughed out loud, but that's all I found myself laughing at in this section.

I would like to preface this next statement with "I don't feel as if reading this novel is a form of punishment." This being said, I feel like Sisyphus pushing a boulder up a steep hill and then watching it roll back down to the bottom as I finish each section and begin another. JB is grating my nerves, but damnit if I didn't feel some remorse for him knowing he's become a crack addict. Although Willem and Jude have forgiven JB, for using an unapproved image of Jude in one of his collections; their relationship has been somewhat strained, as the three friends barely see or talk to one another. Their absence in JB's life actually emphasizes the feelings of his unresolved abandonment issues experienced from not having a father figure. This combination of voids, I think, enables him to developing unhealthy relationships with people like Jackson and the questionable habits they bring along with them...Drugs and excessive dirty sex. To watch JB transition into a submissive character in the presence of Jackson from somebody who once stood quite tall, and rather weak-willed in regards to a possible sobriety, well, his character has done a complete 180...He's become a follower, which is odd because he's such a leader and people follow him, he's become passive to the continuing betterment of his life when he was the most ambitious out of his college friends.

The dynamics between the four friends at JB's intervention is exactly how I would expect each character to behave; however, I didn't expect there to be an intervention. JB's an addict, he needs help, but I was quite surprised at Jude...Divulging to Malcolm and Willem, something deep, dark and intimate, about JB, something he was not supposed to divulge. I understand Jude was helping, but wasn't it also rather hypocritical of him taking into consideration Jude's own situation and how his friends rally around him in their own ways during his more powerless moments? At first, I was torn about this situation, but in the end Jude did the right thing by orchestrating the intervention...He was saving his friend's life, he was coming from a good place intentionally putting himself in an invidious position.

I'm not sure if JB, Malcolm, and Willem, possibly Jude but I'm not sure, are experiencing Peter Pan syndrome, but they all seem to be yearning for the safety and togetherness from their college days? I don't think I would equate Willem breaking up with Phillipa to this, or Malcolm's apprehension to his upcoming nuptials (that's a whole other ball game*), but they all miss the stability of having one another in their lives. Willem and Phillipa took a turn for the worse in this section, since they're no longer together, but wasn't their relationship hanging on by a thin thread already...I thought Jude's observation was the hair that broke the camel's back, Willem may have been looking for a reason to end things with Phillipa?

Along with race and socio-economic factors as ongoing themes, I think sexuality and sexual identity are also prevalent.

*Malcolm came out of the closet to his parents, then began dating a woman, and is now getting married...Is this right?


message 3: by Catherine (new)

Catherine (catsmeeow) I feel awful for JB!! The follower that you describe him as being is so sad when he used to be so vibrant, creative, and full of zest! I feel like both him and Jude are destroying themselves but for JB p, it's not like he's dealing with predicting trauma and pain but more just climbing to the top and not knowing what to do there combined with his feelings of abandonment. I feel for him - being in a tight knit group that you grew up with, only to realize slowly that you are becoming the outsider to the group when you don't want to be.

Yes - I think Malcolm came out, then is about to possibly marry the girl? I agree that sexuality seems to be a theme as well. It's interesting how Willem's relationship dissolved but also how he seems to think that his friendship with Jude is as good as, if not a more pure form of love than romantic love.

I'm not sure if Jude would see it as hypocritical to tell others about JB and expect secrets from others. He seems to understand that his protocols don't operate on the same societal rules and doesn't seem to expect equal reciprocal actions. He constantly seems to feel inferior because he is unable to reciprocate but doesn't seem to feel bound by having to do things the same as he receives.


message 4: by Dianne (new)

Dianne | 1265 comments I think for JB the group, and being a leader in it, WAS his identity, and when he lost that tight knit group, and his role in it, AND his friends seemingly abandoned him, he just lost it. I think it is true that those close friendships you form when you are younger, and a student, and have so much time to invest, are hard to duplicate when you are older. Nonetheless, it is so typical for people to give them up as they get older. Is the author suggesting that these friendships, and abandoning typical family relationships in favor of them, is an acceptable alternate life choice? For these guys they ARE each other's family. The sexual ambiguity of most of them is strange to me. Are people really like that? I've lived with gay people before, and they definitely only went one way. Is the author trying to say that bisexuality, or changing from one sexuality to another, is acceptable? Or what is she trying to say by making so many of them so seemingly confused (or indifferent, or amenable to change).

I agree that Jude realizes how little he can reciprocate in relationships and this is why he is so generous in other ways.


message 5: by Ami (last edited Aug 20, 2016 11:27AM) (new)

Ami Dianne wrote: "I think for JB the group, and being a leader in it, WAS his identity, and when he lost that tight knit group, and his role in it, AND his friends seemingly abandoned him, he just lost it. I think i..."

Is the author suggesting that these friendships, and abandoning typical family relationships in favor of them, is an acceptable alternate life choice?
Nope...At least not to me, that is not the question the author is attempting to convey. All of these friends have family issues, so it made sense to me they were drawn to and considered one another more than friends and instead as family, like you said.

The sexual ambiguity of most of them is strange to me. Are people really like that? I've lived with gay people before, and they definitely only went one way. Is the author trying to say that bisexuality, or changing from one sexuality to another, is acceptable?
Again, I don't think Yanagihara is asking the reader to judge the "acceptability" of sexual ambiguity. What Yanagihara makes evident is sexual ambiguity is prevalent, and some people are open enough to welcome both sex into their lives on a readily basis. For me, I found this aspect of the novel intriguing because I was navigating through the sexual ambiguity as it pertained to "men;" if it were women instead, I wouldn't have given it a second thought; maybe because women's sexuality is openly discussed versus that of men...Comparable to nudity restriction differences for men in general entertainment (TV & movies), right, women are able to bare all while men are only privy to partial nudity? This is another reason why the novel is so special...It totally flips my viewpoint in a direction I don't give credit to for existing...Yes, men too can be sexually ambiguous. Do you ever watch SNL? I just thought of the "Ambiguously Gay Duo" short. LOL!


message 6: by Dianne (new)

Dianne | 1265 comments Oh yeah! The ambiguously gay duo is hilarious! Maybe I'm too conservative, or too non NYC, but the ambiguity doesn't seem prevalent here. And to be perfectly honest I kind of hope it's not that prevalent! Somehow gay is fine to me, ambiguous is not? Not sure why!


message 7: by Ami (new)

Ami Dianne wrote: "Oh yeah! The ambiguously gay duo is hilarious! Maybe I'm too conservative, or too non NYC, but the ambiguity doesn't seem prevalent here. And to be perfectly honest I kind of hope it's not that pre..."

but the ambiguity doesn't seem prevalent here.
"Here," as in in the novel, or around your vicinity?


message 8: by Dianne (new)

Dianne | 1265 comments Ami wrote: "Dianne wrote: "Oh yeah! The ambiguously gay duo is hilarious! Maybe I'm too conservative, or too non NYC, but the ambiguity doesn't seem prevalent here. And to be perfectly honest I kind of hope it..."

my vicinity


message 9: by Ami (new)

Ami Dianne wrote: "Ami wrote: "Dianne wrote: "Oh yeah! The ambiguously gay duo is hilarious! Maybe I'm too conservative, or too non NYC, but the ambiguity doesn't seem prevalent here. And to be perfectly honest I kin..."

That you know of...LOL!?!


message 10: by Dianne (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:21PM) (new)

Dianne | 1265 comments Ami wrote: "Dianne wrote: "Ami wrote: "Dianne wrote: "Oh yeah! The ambiguously gay duo is hilarious! Maybe I'm too conservative, or too non NYC, but the ambiguity doesn't seem prevalent here. And to be perfect..."

fair point! I've come a long ways from my days of living with a gay couple as roommates, they would always drag me along with them to clubs in west hollywood. hard to believe now those crazy times!!! Yep now I'm in suburbia taking my kids to soccer and working a 'regular' job, so maybe not so much part of the 'ambiguous' scene. It probably exists right under my nose.


message 11: by Alana (new)

Alana (alanasbooks) | 456 comments For some reason, this section took me FOREVER to get through, mostly because other, faster-paced books kept getting my attention and I just set this one aside for awhile.

Here are some things I highlighted from this section:

Chapter I (about page 218) - "But how was one to be an adult? Was couplehood truly the only appropriate option.... He took pleasure in his friendships, and it didn't hurt anyone, so who cared if it was codependent or not? And anyway, how was a friendship any more codependent than a relationship? Why was it admirable when you were twenty-seven but creepy when you were thirty-seven?..."

Chapter 2 (page 221) - "He was his friend. His job was to treat him as he wanted to be treated, not as a subject to be spied on....The question was how you ignored someone's request to be left alone - even if it meant jeopardizing the friendship. It was a wretched little koan: How can you help someone who won't be helped while realizing that if you don't try to help, the you're not being a friend at all?"

Chapter 3 (page 224) - '...feel both disdaid for stupid Giles as well as disgust for his own immaturity. Fucking with one's own therapist-even if one's therapist deserved to be fucked with-was the sort of thing you did when you were nineteen, not when you were thirty-nine."

Chapter 3 (page 257) - "...success made people boring. Failure also made people boring, but in a different way: failing people were constantly striving for one thing - success. But successful people were also only striving to maintain their success."

Chapter 3 (page 257) - "He sometimes thought that the real thing that distinguished him and Malcolm from Jude and Willem was not race or wealth, but Jude's and Willem's depthless capacity for wonderment: their childhoods had been so paltry, so gray, compared to his, that it seemed they were constantly being dazzled as adults."


Definitely some interesting thoughts here! I found the description of JB's "Day in the Life" series to be so interesting: he's so busy looking at everyone else through his camera lens and finding their lives interesting, but he can't find anything worth painting about himself. In fact, his lens trained on himself makes him despise himself and he doesn't want to paint it, for others to see what his life really is. Very introspective, in a way I haven't really seen in a book before. And when he's confronted with everything by his friends, he's SUCH an asshole to Jude, yet you can see his deep need and care for Jude, and his desire to NOT be that guy.... but he just can't seem to see the way out.


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