I am in the midst of a disagreement over a book. I hated it; dear friends whose opinions I respect deem it their favorite book of all time. I absolutely can not and will not recommend it to others, and I half-jokingly told the friend who recommended it to me that I should sue her for pain and suffering.
The book is “A Little Life” by Hanya Yanagihara. Here is what the New York Times said about it: “It’s a big, emotional, trauma-packed read with a voluptuous prose style that wavers between the exquisite and the overdone. A potboiler about very intense male friendship, it’s a sui generis phenomenon that became a runaway hit. And it is now a shortlisted contender for the Man Booker Prize, which will be awarded on Oct. 13.”
It is hard to explain why I disliked this book so intensely. It is not because of the brutally graphic accounts of sexual and physical abuse and self-mutilation. It is not solely because two of the main characters, introduced at the start of the story as integral parts of this tight-knit foursome essentially disappear, although that’s part of it. And it’s not entirely because of the absolutely implausible romance that develops between the two remaining friends after decades of platonic love, although that too is part of it.
What I have the most trouble with is fathoming why any one, never mind EVERY ONE, would love the main character. He constantly acts like a jerk. And every one around him looks sad when he does, and sadder when he behaves even worse than that. I can see forgiving him his bad behavior because of his horrible past–oh wait, no one knows about that because he has never told them. He has never trusted any of his friends–not the boss that invites him into his inner circle; not the professor who adopts him; not the roommate/lover who takes him to the doctor every damn time he overdoes it with the cutting.
I do not think of myself as cynical (ok, maybe a little) or as a pessimist, and I think I have an enormous capacity for love. Yet I don’t think I could muster enough to leave room for this character in my life.
If you loved it, tell me why. I won’t be convinced yet I wonder if I am missing something.
Books I CAN recommend:
Before the Fall by Noah Hawley. A novel full of intrigue and suspense, a blockbuster movie in the making, a terrific beach read, this is just plain great story telling. It was one of those books where you have to decide to stay up all night to finish, or put it off to savor one more day.
Watergate by Thomas Mallon. If you lived through Watergate, like I did, or even if you didn’t, you will enjoy this reimagined version of the events and characters at the heart of the original storm that spawned a thousand “-gates.” The essential question of “what the hell was all that even about” is never really answered, but the novel is so entertaining you won’t care!
The Last Painting of Sara De Vos by Dominic Smith The story takes place on two tracks–modern day New York City and during the 17th century Dutch Golden Age of painting, and centers around one of those golden era paintings. The two heroines of the novel are separated across the centuries and the miles, yet their stories are intricately entwined. Technically a crime story, the novel is full of emotion and sympathetic characters.
I am Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid is disturbing and creepy. If you understand my love of George Saunders, and his ability to convince us that his unreality is certainly reality, with maybe a little of The Stand-era Stephen King thrown in for good measure, then you will understand why I am including this book here.
Recommended viewing: The Wire. It is everything.