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Archived 2016 Group Reads > A Little Life - Part VII - Lispenard Street and whole book discussion

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message 1: by Dianne (new)

Dianne | 1263 comments Post any thoughts on the last section or the book as a whole here


message 2: by Catherine (new)

Catherine (catsmeeow) Oh boy. I can't say that the ending was a huge surprise. All the way through the book you knew Jude was just battling, fighting, and struggling to stay alive.

Another chapter in Harold's first person speeches to Jude. Previously I always thought it was some sort of eulogy and it pointed to something happening to Jude and that Harold and Willem were struggling together to accept and move on, but sadly Willem is gone as well.

So many parallels in this story. It feels sometimes like déjà vu. Things happening again, but different. Two car accidents. Two handicapped people in Willem's life. Two sons in Harold's life. Both lost. Two attempts at ending his life. Two father figures in Jude's life. Two doctors in Jude's life. Jude is so brave in constantly trying to live life again but as he said, the half lives of those original traumas are just too much.

Even though they weren't successful in keeping Jude alive, his friends and family did so much in injecting him with happiness for those thirty some years that they did have him. His life was brighter, fuller, and better being surrounded by others. The title seems to come from Jude believing he lived a little life. There's few things in the future that will point to him. Unlike others, he was not famous really. There was no scholarship set up in his name. He has no heirs. But as Willem points out, Jude was able to make connections with his friends who all cared for him. Is a handful of connections as good as touching millions of lives on the big screen?

I finish feeling hopeful Willem and Jude are together. Glad that Jude finally gets to rest. Heartbroken he never lives to old age. And feeling terrible for Harold and Julia and JB. It's so sad how their quartet was broken up at such a young age.


message 3: by Ami (last edited Aug 16, 2016 09:30AM) (new)

Ami Evocative thoughts and memories still dance through my mind weeks after reading Yanagihara's "A Little Life." I closed the book thinking two things...How loud the crescendo of the hyenas howling in Jude's mind must have been, thus the culmination of pain he was attempting to release being immeasurable. How else does an arterial air embolism even begin to make any sense? Right now, all I'm consumed with are "A Little LIfe's" criticisms...Not having any serious female characters, writing a predominantly alternative lifestyle themed novel as a straight (supposedly?) woman, or that it was relentless torture porn. There may be some text issues with the narrative, but other than that I do not feel the other criticisms hold much clout as it pertains to "A Little Life..." I didn't see it as a fault the narrative lacked female characters, or that she wrote about these friends as gay (supposedly) men considering Yanagihara is a woman.

There is a lot of talk these days regarding people who should not have a leg to stand on with certain subject matters because they do not have any first hand experience with the subject; for example, a woman without children having a legitimate POV regarding children or the process in raising them; black writers in the entertainment industry writing scripts for white actors, or vice versa (more so vice versa). It is such a loaded concept that these voices lack any real legitimacy. In the case for Yanagihara, it is important to write what you know; but maybe even better to write what you want to know more about; to approach the subject matter with a humility and curiosity to know that culture or race, and orientation? When you have a genuine curiosity for a concept, you have the ability to create something amazing, which is exactly what Yanagihara has done with "A Little Life."

What I was most surprised about and still lingers in my mind now, probably an aspect of the narrative I didn't particularly care for, was how all the friends died so early in life...None of them made it past their fifty's, if I'm not mistaken. Textually, I didn't like how some of the chapters began five or six years later to its preceding chapter. I've always considered that literary technique to be literary laziness.

I remember being quite puzzled by the idea of sexuality and sexual identity when it came to Jude, Willem and Malcom. I wondered if Jude and Willem were really gay, but now as I write this, I wonder if it really matters? I believe homosexuality is genetic, yet believe Jude was habitually conditioned by nefarious means to being with men; if this is even safe to say because really I think he has become asexual. Willem's sexual identity tended to be more fluid and bisexual, but isnt' it interesting how he always dated women and chose women to be with sexually when he and Jude were not having sex with one another...Jude is the only man Willem ever pursued a relationship with? Taking all of this into consideration, I think, sexuality in general, is one hell of a beast; but in this book played out as being rather cathartic...In fact, the novel as a whole was one big cathartic experience, and the good one's usually are!

I know it's been difficult corralling members for a more robust interaction, but that's the way the cookie crumbles sometimes. For what it's worth, thank you Dianne and Catherine for indulging me in discussion when possible.


message 4: by Ami (last edited Aug 19, 2016 12:50PM) (new)

Ami Birdseye view of NYC life
As I mentioned in Book 1, Yanagihara's POV on NYC life was criticized because her angle was too "Sex in the City" -ish...Everybody having a glamorous job at the zenith of their careers, not hindered by societal or financial constraints and free to do as they pleased. Everybody had their crutch, some more than others, but in the big spectrum, their lives did feel glorified...At least the friends' lives did.


message 5: by Dianne (new)

Dianne | 1263 comments Ami wrote: "Birdseye view of NYC life
As I mentioned in Book 1, Yanagihara's POV on NYC life was criticized because her angle was too "Sex in the City" -ish...Everybody having a glamorous job at the zenith of ..."


It's a fair criticism. Why DID she focus on these friends who had the finer things in life? Certainly it was unrealistic but what was her rationale for doing so? I think the likelihood that the friends with childhood hardships could achieve such success is small.


message 6: by Ami (last edited Aug 19, 2016 07:48PM) (new)

Ami Dianne wrote: "Ami wrote: "Birdseye view of NYC life
As I mentioned in Book 1, Yanagihara's POV on NYC life was criticized because her angle was too "Sex in the City" -ish...Everybody having a glamorous job at th..."


It's a good question. Granted, it couldn't have been any worse if they ended up on a side street somewhere in Queens, popping wheelies riding grocery carts, wearing black Hefty trash bags with newspaper stuffed up their butts...IDK?

Maybe she did it to give their characters a "solid," amidst all of the tragedy that befell them?

I think the likelihood that the friends with childhood hardships could achieve such success is small.
It makes for a better story though, doesn't it? I love it when the underdog prevails.


message 7: by Dianne (new)

Dianne | 1263 comments Ami wrote: "Dianne wrote: "Ami wrote: "Birdseye view of NYC life
As I mentioned in Book 1, Yanagihara's POV on NYC life was criticized because her angle was too "Sex in the City" -ish...Everybody having a glam..."


maybe she did it to show that despite all the superficial trappings of wealth and success, 'a little life' can be totally overcome by tragedy and past abuse. Ok, that's a pretty depressing way to view it, but it's possible. I like when the underdog prevails as well, but I think she didn't address enough *how* these friends worked to achieve their success. It was more like, boom! success! although I guess willem and JB worked for it.


message 8: by Ami (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:36PM) (new)

Ami Dianne wrote: "Ami wrote: "Dianne wrote: "Ami wrote: "Birdseye view of NYC life
As I mentioned in Book 1, Yanagihara's POV on NYC life was criticized because her angle was too "Sex in the City" -ish...Everybody h..."


But it's true...There is legitimacy to your thought. I don't think it's depressing at all...Sometimes, it's just "life."

but I think she didn't address enough *how* these friends worked to achieve their success. It was more like, boom! success!
It was a "Boom! Success-type injection. I wonder if she would have written more about them. if it would have enriched the overall plot line? At this point, the original criticism just seems like someone was pecking for a morsel of clout; which is why I think the novel will stand through the test of time, it doesn't matter in the end because it would fail to give the novel any shape.


message 9: by Dianne (new)

Dianne | 1263 comments Ami wrote: "Dianne wrote: "Ami wrote: "Dianne wrote: "Ami wrote: "Birdseye view of NYC life
As I mentioned in Book 1, Yanagihara's POV on NYC life was criticized because her angle was too "Sex in the City" -is..."


I agree, I think the book will last because it is a brilliant treatment of individual psychologies, relationships, and trauma. It was amazingly powerful, and it resonates long after you read it. I don't think I could pick it up again, however, but I'm glad I own it.


message 10: by Greg (new)

Greg (gregreadsalot) | 200 comments Catherine wrote: "Oh boy. I can't say that the ending was a huge surprise. All the way through the book you knew Jude was just battling, fighting, and struggling to stay alive.

Another chapter in Harold's first pe..."

Hi Catherine, I have an opposing view than most readers of this book. I found that ever single character abused Jude, especially the father who adopted him (who didn't even bother with taking pictures of Jude's trashed apartment after he was beaten, at a minimum. If I had been Jude's father, and Jude had asked me to do nothing, I would have at a minimum collected evidence, and found a way to ensure the abuser never touched Jude again). And I couldn't help but cheer when Jude refused to forgive JB, as JB had treated Jude horribly throughout the book. I see Jude surrounded only by villians, and Jude's ultimate act was beautiful: He rose above them all.


message 11: by Greg (new)

Greg (gregreadsalot) | 200 comments Dianne wrote: "Ami wrote: "Dianne wrote: "Ami wrote: "Dianne wrote: "Ami wrote: "Birdseye view of NYC life
As I mentioned in Book 1, Yanagihara's POV on NYC life was criticized because her angle was too "Sex in t..."

Hi Dianne, you know I loved this book. And I went out and bought it after reading it as I will revisit it many times. Jude is a hero for the ages.


message 12: by Greg (new)

Greg (gregreadsalot) | 200 comments Ami wrote: "Evocative thoughts and memories still dance through my mind weeks after reading Yanagihara's "A Little Life." I closed the book thinking two things...How loud the crescendo of the hyenas howling in..."
Ami, I did think that Jude became asexual after the assault in his loft. And that means that when Willem forced himself on Jude, that was rape=nonconsensual sex. And yes, what a cathartic experience!


message 13: by Ami (new)

Ami Greg wrote: "Ami wrote: "Evocative thoughts and memories still dance through my mind weeks after reading Yanagihara's "A Little Life." I closed the book thinking two things...How loud the crescendo of the hyena..."

I don't remember Willem "forcing" himself on Jude off the top of my head, so I'm afraid I have no frame of reference to discuss the possibility of it. Now, I'm wondering how I could have missed this occurrence as non-consensual-rape scenario at the time of reading the novel?

Jude seemed asexual to me much earlier than the assault in his loft; specifically, after the accident. His personal sexual freedoms, thus his identity, were never allowed to develop in an organic and healthy manner and after the accident, I didn't see him able or willing to pursue a romantic relationship with anybody unless forced.


message 14: by Alana (new)

Alana (alanasbooks) | 456 comments As soon as this switched to Harold's first-person narrative again, it just clicked, that he was all along trying to explain to Willem (who has already died) how he did his best for Jude, how he responded to Jude, but just didn't know what to do. It's an asking forgiveness of Willem for failing him, and for failing Jude. And a coping in some way, after he lost not only his young son, but then his adopted son, and all of the formerly young people he had mentored all these years.

Did ANY of them end up having children that lived on? I can't think of any besides Lawrence. None of them have a family legacy continuing, although many contributed to the art and legal world.

I have to digest this one for a little bit before I review it. It was torture to get through (and I agree, some of the sexual ambiguity felt off, like she was trying too hard), both on an emotional and just a disturbing level. It felt like she left just enough "good" moments in it to keep you going, to see how it would end.... but 85% of it was just tragedy after tragedy after depression. I am completely emotionally exhausted after reading this. It's taken me MONTHS to get through it, and while I suppose I'm ok with having read it (meaning I don't think it was a complete waste of time) I am in no way eager to pick up anything nearly that depressing or emotionally draining for quite some time.... if ever again.


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