A Little Life.

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I read a150305_BOOKS_ALittleLifeCover.jpg.CROP.original-originalbout A Little Life when it came out and was happy to learn by the time I got around to reading it, that the 800 pages were thankfully in paperback. Though the book was physically lighter, it was one of the most emotionally-heavy books I’ve read in a long time.

The story begins by following 4 college roommates, each with a different background, all now living in New York City trying to make it in their chosen fields. Ultimately the story narrows to focus on one, Jude, who doesn’t share any details of life pre-college life with his friends. Over the course of the book, the reader slowly learns that prior to beginning college, Jude experienced years of harrowing abuse–and it was devastating to read. Though we watch as the 4 friends find success, Jude is never able to free himself from his past and remains paralyzed by his experiences.

The New Yorker put it poignantly: “Though he is named after the patron saint of lost causes—the name given to him by the monks who raised him—what’s most obviously lost here is the promise of spiritual absolution or even psychological healing.” Throughout reading the story, I felt myself longing for Jude to feel free from his past, especially when he is finally able to find some happiness in his present. But I found myself in the same boat as his friends–devastated as they are unable to reach him.

Lately I’ve been thinking about the word acceptance in both the mundane and not so mundane as I’ve been exploring {often poorly, but. acceptance!}  meditation and mindfulness. I’m a type A, fix-it sort of person which obviously causes some tension in this regard. This story amplified the tensions as I read: When will Jude accept the genuine love people have to offer him? Should Jude’s friends accept his private, self destructive behavior, especially as their repeated attempts to help haven’t worked? Alongside the other characters, I simply couldn’t accept the broken parts of Jude’s life.

 The author of The New Yorker article goes on to say:  “In this godless world, friendship is the only solace available to any of us…Of course, atheism is not uncommon in contemporary literary novels; with notable exceptions, such as the works of Marilynne Robinson, few such books these days have any religious cast. But perhaps that is why they rarely depict extreme suffering—because it is a nearly impossible subject to engage with directly if you are not going to offer some kind of spiritual solution.

This was the difficult part of this book–the readers can only watch as Jude wrestles with his pain (and Yanigihara doesn’t spare him at all as the story continues) and as his loved ones wrestle with how to help.  It was devastating as a reader (and deeply unsettling as someone who longs for healing, redemption, and hope). Which circles us back to the concept of acceptance. When? How? For whom? We are left with no pat answer and a lot to think about–which makes me recommend that if you are to read this book, please do it with a book club or find a friend as a reading partner. This “little life” does not feel little at all.

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