Some of you know from our post-discussion dinners that this spring, I finally got around to tackling one of 2015's "big books"—you know, the type that generates lots of buzz among the smart set and makes the "Best Books of the Year" lists, but then languishes on coffee tables in a weird, partially read limbo until being moved to make room for the next Big Book. (Not sure why it seems to take me two years to do that, but I had the same lag time last summer with Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch.)
In this case, I speak of Hanya Yanagihara's 2015 epic, A Little Life, which I recently finished (all 720 pages!) and warmly recommend--with one major caveat. To quote the book jacket:
As the sly references to "devotion" and "brotherly bonds" insinuate, three of the four protagonists are gay or at least bisexual, as are a good number of the secondary characters. Yet A Little Life isn't primarily a Gay Novel—which, for me, is both its strength and its weakness. Indeed, in some ways it was a relief to read a book that presents homosexuality as normal and healthy, without making sex the main focus.
I came to care deeply for most of these guys despite (or because of?) their manifold flaws, but that prompts my warning: Don't read this book if you're seeking uplift or reassurance! I'm not giving anything away when I observe that Yanagihara really seems to enjoy inflicting hardships and suffering on her characters—usually, but not always, to test, or build, their mettle.
That said, there are many lyrical passages and a good deal of humor, albeit mostly in the first third of the novel. And some characters do find happiness (or a reasonable facsimile thereof) along the way, if not necessarily where and how and with whom they had expected.