A Little Life follows four college classmates as they move to New York in search of fame and fortune. While their relationships, which are tinged by addiction, success, and pride, deepen over the decades, the men are held together by their devotion to the brilliant, enigmatic Jude, a man scarred by an unspeakable childhood trauma.
...the most ambitious chronicle of the social and emotional lives of gay men to have emerged for many years ... Just as Yanagihara’s characters challenge conventional categories of gay identity, so A Little Life avoids the familiar narratives of gay fiction. Yanagihara approaches the collective traumas that have so deeply shaped modern gay identity—sickness and discrimination—obliquely, avoiding the conventions of the coming-out narrative or the AIDS novel ... In this astonishing novel, Yanagihara achieves what great gay art from Proust to Almodóvar has so often sought: a grandeur of feeling adequate to 'the terrifying largeness, the impossibility of the world.'”
A Little Life becomes a surprisingly subversive novel—one that uses the middle-class trappings of naturalistic fiction to deliver an unsettling meditation on sexual abuse, suffering, and the difficulties of recovery ... Yanagihara’s rendering of Jude’s abuse never feels excessive or sensationalist. It is not included for shock value or titillation, as is sometimes the case in works of horror or crime fiction. Jude’s suffering is so extensively documented because it is the foundation of his character ... Yanagihara’s novel can also drive you mad, consume you, and take over your life. Like the axiom of equality, A Little Life feels elemental, irreducible—and, dark and disturbing though it is, there is beauty in it.
From the moment I picked up A Little Life, I couldn’t put it down. I read the whole thing in three days. When it was over, I felt sorry and reluctant to read anything else. I actually started rereading it—I reread the first twenty pages, and then I stopped, not because I wanted to but because I had professional obligations to read other things ... I was mystified at first as to how I was able to tolerate, let alone devour, a book so devoted to two of my least-favorite literary topoi (pedophilia, lifestyles of the rich and glamorous). Then it occurred to me that perhaps what was so compelling was precisely the combination of the two ... 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.