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Monday, July 6, 2015

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

This is a modern tragedy, a big book about ordinary people who cannot overcome the obstacles of their past.  It is powerful and plain at the same time.  The story follows four friends who have been together as a foursome since college, and follows them forward in life.  Malcolm is from old money and he goes forward in life with that charmed beginning, He is a talented architect but part of his success is clearly related to his connections.  Jean Batiste (known as JB) is from an impoverished background and overall he has a lot of baggage.  He becomes a successful artist, but the subjects of his paintings are his friends from college, which leads a layer of complexity to his relationships with them.  Willem is the most loyal of the bunch, a handsome man who becomes an internationally known actor.  The primary object of his support is Jude, a man who was abandoned as a child, the victim of long term physical and sexual abuse throughout his childhood, leaving him so ashamed that he is unable function psychologically and socially.

 Jude is the center of the novel, and he is both a sympathetic and an incredibly frustrating character.  He has issues with trust.  He is unable to engage with people sexually but he is vulnerable to continued abuse.  He is the paradigm for understanding why rape victims get raped again in the future.  They feel like they they are unworthy and when people treat them poorly they are inclined to feel like they deserve it.  Jude is extremely resistant to therapy, cuts himself as a release of his anxiety, and is physically disabled as a result of the abuse he had as a young man.  The book is emotionally on target and surprisingly lightly written despite the seriousness of some of the material.

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