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At a certain point, I had a mental picture of Yanagihara looking grimly at her computer, typing, over and over, certain kinds of sentences: High above him, the ceiling winked and shone with scores of chandeliers—old, glass, new, steel—that were strung every three feet or so, at irregular heights, so that as they walked deeper into the loft, he could feel glass bugles skimming across the top of his head…He would carefully work himself out from beneath Brother Luke and ball himself on the filthy motel carpet under the bed, which was prickly with burrs and dropped thumbtacks and slimy with used condoms and strange damp spots…A gang rape that was reportedly live-streamed on Facebook has led to the arrest of three people.I was interested to note that the scenes of cutting and child rape were intercut with another genre of writing that I normally don’t care for: “Sex and the City”-style lifestyle porn.Everyone in the book is or becomes famous or prestigious or powerful; they have Whitney retrospectives and win “major awards.” Conveniently, Malcolm becomes a famous architect and is able to outfit his friends’ So Ho lofts and upstate farmhouses with bathtubs made of “cypress sourced from Gifu”; Jude’s country house includes a barn modified in such a way that all the walls can rise up, letting in the smell of the tree peonies and wisteria.B., an overweight gay Haitian-American aspiring artist from Brooklyn; and Jude, a beautiful, brilliant, disfigured young attorney of indeterminate race and origin.
As for the negative reviews—which were less numerous but sometimes written by close friends with whom I often agreed about books—they seemed to be describing a genuinely problematic text.
And, somehow, when I crawled into bed every night with “A Little Life,” when I read about all the great apartments and great parties and great meals, juxtaposed with the visceral and meticulous story of a child whose trust and body and soul are systematically and deliberately broken by sadists for their personal entertainment, I felt that I recognized something true, and I felt comforted.
As I read, I felt no reproaches for the people who disliked “A Little Life”; I saw why they did.
I first heard about Hanya Yanagihara’s “A Little Life”—a seven-hundred-and-twenty-page, four-friends-in-New-York novel that unexpectedly morphs into the saga of the self-loathing and self-harm of the disabled survivor of serial homosexual pedophilia—I didn’t plan on reading it.
This decision was based on a belief I formed about myself as a child in the nineteen-eighties: some people, I saw, really liked to read novels about foster children who had flashbacks to terrible encounters with pedophiles or other abusers, but I usually preferred books that were about other things.