I’m letting you know now that this is going to be a long one. I put a little “recommendation” as a “tl;dr,” but I got a lot on my chest that I need to say.
When four classmates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way, they’re broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition. There is kind, handsome Willem, an aspiring actor; JB, a quick-witted, sometimes cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their center of gravity. Over the decades, their relationships deepen and darken, tinged by addiction, success, and pride. Yet their greatest challenge, each comes to realize, is Jude himself, by midlife a terrifyingly talented litigator yet an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood, and haunted by what he fears is a degree of trauma that he’ll not only be unable to overcome—but that will define his life forever.
Rating: 4/5 stars
Recommendation: Highly recommended, but just be aware of the emotional triggers (suicide, self-harm, sexual and verbal abuse, physical abuse). Also give yourself a fun book to read afterwards because this will stick in your brain like a piece of kale stuck in your teeth. You try and try to get it out, but it just embeds itself further into your gums.
I’m going to try and keep this as short as I possibly can. I don’t know how since this book has been leaving its footprints on my mind for the past few days.
I’m not the type of person to get really pounded down by serious stories. I’ve read many books about drug abuse, physical and sexual abuse, self-harm, and suicide. They’ve never phased me, but this book somehow was able to encapsulate all of those difficult and serious topics and place them into one character: Jude.
Jude is the culmination of every single emotionally deteriorated person in the world. Being a person who will admittedly lived a pretty charmed life, I can’t believe that someone like Jude could exist in the world. A high functioning lawyer with a huge bank load and a swank apartment in the West Village, but he self-mutilates, contemplates suicide, lived his childhood in the system, and was emotionally and sexually abused as a kid? Not to mention the additional emotionally draining episodes of his life that left him sad and alone? Honestly, he’s a contender for the “why does all this stuff happen in my life?” award next to Harry Potter (remember, almost every adult figure in his life somehow dies).
As I was reading the book, I kept asking myself, does a person like this exist? Could I stumble across some high powered corporate exec and also find out that he’s had the most tragic life hidden below all of that suit? Was it purposeful for Hanya Yanagihara to make one person suffer the most?
In all honestly, it felt like every single character suffered in some way. They’ve lost loved ones. They’ve dealt with substance abuse. They’ve been faced with the question of their sexuality. While in this world there’s a certain level of tragedy in everyone, at the same time I can’t imagine one person just being the universe’s personal punching bag.
And yet Hanya Yanagihara writes this in an exquisite way. While the prose is pretty heavy and in some parts too descriptive, it’s almost poetic. Making poetry from personal tragedy is considered the fuel for art. People weren’t kidding when they said that the writing is so enticing it keeps you reading. It’s beautiful and not in that post-graduated-read-too-much-Hemmingway style, but almost simplistic. It was the difference of a $500 bottle of wine vs. the two-buck Chuck. While it’s not some fancy brand, it’s still delectable.