Official A LITTLE LIFE Thread

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Re: Official A LITTLE LIFE Thread

Postby flipp525 » Wed Nov 08, 2017 1:25 pm

Revisiting this thread and wanted to say how much [I] enjoyed the thoughtful discussion.
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Re: Official A LITTLE LIFE Thread

Postby flipp525 » Mon Feb 22, 2016 12:06 pm

I had the immense privilege of hearing Hanya Yanagihara speak about the process of writing A Little Life last night here in D.C. and it was a really special evening. She didn't read from the novel, but she sat down with one of the chairs of the PEN/Faulkner Association (of which my mentor is the current president) and answered a bunch of questions about the book.

One thing I found really interesting about her discussion of the character of Jude was that he came to her "fully formed." His character didn't evolve through the writing. She knew exactly who he was throughout the writing of the novel. She was very assured about the craft of the book and discussed the very deliberate structure of the novel as well as the nature in which the extreme highs and lows of the characters very much put the novel in the realm of fantasy and fairy tale. She also touched upon how, because the novel is ahistorical, it relies a lot on the interior architecture of the characters themselves. This is stuff we've touched upon here in this thread and it was nice to hear the author herself expand upon some of these themes.

She also spoke about how the book rejects the recovery narrative where a damaged person goes from Point A to Point Z. She kind of wanted to stop things at, like Point J. The novel, in her mind, is very much about the "tyranny of memory...a character trying to control and manage memory—and losing."

She mentioned that one of her original cover ideas was a packet of razors (glad that got nixed!). Also, her editor wanted her to cut a third of the book. However, when asked what parts he wanted cut, he couldn't identify any specific sections. So, she said that she wasn't going to cut anything. She was extremely friendly during the book signing and very gracious and appreciative of the fans.
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Re: Official A LITTLE LIFE Thread

Postby flipp525 » Mon Jan 18, 2016 7:46 pm

Here are details for Hanya Yanagihara's upcoming appearances to promote and read from A Little Life. She announced on Facebook that, at the moment, these are the only appearances she'll be making to promote the book:

1/28, BROOKLYN, St. Joseph’s College, Tuohy Hall (245 Clinton Ave), in conjunction with Greenlight Bookstore. 7:30pm, $17 (includes a copy of the book)

2/21, WASHINGTON D.C., Busboys & Poets (235 Carroll St. NW), in conjunction with Politics and Prose and PEN Faulkner. 6:15pm.

2/22, SAN FRANCISCO, Book Passage (1 Ferry Bldg.), 6pm

2/23, LOS ANGELES, L.A. Public Library (630 West Fifth St.), 7:15pm. Event is free but ticketed.

3/22, DALLAS, Dallas Museum of Art (1717 North Harwood), 7:30pm.

3/23, AUSTIN, BookPeople (603 North Lamar Blvd.), 7pm.

3/31, PHILADELPHIA, Free Library of Philadelphia (1901 Vine St.), 7:30pm
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Re: Official A LITTLE LIFE Thread

Postby flipp525 » Tue Dec 01, 2015 10:05 am

Okri wrote:The title of the review suggests it isn't worth reading.

It's a very hateful read, but I made myself get through it. Interestingly, there's a response "Letter to the Editor" kind of thing from Yanagihara's editor and then a response from Mendelsohn (the writer of the original review) to that where things get quite intense.

If your book is causing that much discussion and debate, I'd consider it a success.
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Re: Official A LITTLE LIFE Thread

Postby Okri » Mon Nov 30, 2015 7:45 pm

The title of the review suggests it isn't worth reading.

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Re: Official A LITTLE LIFE Thread

Postby flipp525 » Sun Nov 29, 2015 10:48 am

David Mendelsohn's largely negative review in The New York Review of Books is causing a bit of a stir, especially with the most ardent fans of A Little Life (some heavy spoilers early on):

http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archive ... mong-pals/

Talk about missing the point. It's such a singular and unique novel that it's understandably thrown a lot of critics (like this one) into a tizzy. Yanagihara purposely resists the kind of catharsis that everyone thinks a novel is supposed to deliver and that really bothers certain critics and readers. The passages that Mendelsohns points out as faulty might have some questionable grammar, but they're simply outweighed by other passages that are so demanding of the reader's investment and so damn true (and are also so based in the power of language which I love and respond to so dramatically in my own writing) it's just mind-shattering. For example, I dare any critic to read the x=x passage of the book and try to not admit it's brilliant beyond comprehension.

What is your take on this review?
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Re: Official A LITTLE LIFE Thread

Postby flipp525 » Mon Nov 16, 2015 8:59 am

Hanya Yanagihara dresses up as her favorite character from literature in this week's New York Magazine. (It's Patricia Highsmith's Tom Ripley)

http://nymag.com/thecut/2015/11/novelis ... cters.html
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Re: Official A LITTLE LIFE Thread

Postby CalWilliam » Tue Nov 03, 2015 5:26 pm

flipp525 wrote:
CalWilliam wrote:I like that notion, the realm of possibility, but as long as I was reading The Axiom of Equality, what struck me most was admiting to myself that Caleb's behaviour could really be plausible, I mean, getting to know an interesting, sensitive guy that turned out to be that insane, that evil. Again, maybe I'm too young. What I try to figure out is how Caleb's psyche works, but I didn't get to really understand it, so that was for me the most frustrating part of the novel. What do you think? Did Yanagihara wanted us to empathize wich such a disturbed person? I think she did, but I wasn't able to understand Caleb, though I agree he was a fascinating character for this reason.


Caleb is certainly one of the more fascinating characters in the book. In many ways, he is the classic perpetrator of abuse. But Yanagihara adds some interesting shades to his character that temper the stock villain angle he could so easily have devolved into, not out of, I think, a sense of empathy, but in an effort to alter Jude's perception of safety as an adult. The horrific attack(s) by Caleb are, of course, what lead Jude to confront his abuse by Brother Luke and the legions of men who raped him for years in those motel rooms. In the fairy tale nature of the novel, Caleb has all the charm, yet all the ferocity and evil of the big bad wolf.


That's a very interesting thing to say. I think it's outstanding the way Yanagihara prepared us to be excited about the possibility of Jude being in a relationship, as it was so how she introduced what could have been previously foretold, given the novel's nature: ''The first time Caleb hit Jude...'', in such a seamless procedure. It's paradoxically shocking, admirable and upsetting at the same time.

What about Malcolm's sexuality? It appears to be a conflict at the beginning, but it's never explored again, only letting us know his relationship with Sophie. I always thought he was, in fact, secretly in love with Jude.

And another aspect I'd like to point out is Harold's epistolary fragments. I recall their appearance only three times if I'm not mistaken: second chapter of The Postman, second chapter of The Axiom of Equality and the final Lispenard Street. It's extraordinary that if she's going to use the first person she decided to do so from a supporting character's point of view, as a letter to Willem, apparently once he has died, as a sort of atonement for his own frustration with Jude, as a kind of relief. I consider Harold the moral centre of the novel, so I think that was another extremely wise choice.
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Re: Official A LITTLE LIFE Thread

Postby flipp525 » Tue Nov 03, 2015 11:36 am

CalWilliam wrote:I like that notion, the realm of possibility, but as long as I was reading The Axiom of Equality, what struck me most was admiting to myself that Caleb's behaviour could really be plausible, I mean, getting to know an interesting, sensitive guy that turned out to be that insane, that evil. Again, maybe I'm too young. What I try to figure out is how Caleb's psyche works, but I didn't get to really understand it, so that was for me the most frustrating part of the novel. What do you think? Did Yanagihara wanted us to empathize wich such a disturbed person? I think she did, but I wasn't able to understand Caleb, though I agree he was a fascinating character for this reason.

What's interesting to me in that regard is how Jude himself also can't really work out what Caleb's deal is either. Remember, he finds out about his death from pancreatic cancer later in the novel and reads in his obituary that he had a partner and he thinks, well, what if it was just Jude himself that brought that side of Caleb out and this partner of his never had to see it. I mean, we all know that an abuser is an abuser. Caleb likely also abused his subsequent boyfriends because that's just how it works. But, in Jude, Caleb also had pretty much the perfect victim: someone who already - before Caleb even came along - believed that he deserved to be used and abused by people. Not only believed that he deserved it, but also expected it.

Caleb is certainly one of the more fascinating characters in the book. In many ways, he is the classic perpetrator of abuse. But Yanagihara adds some interesting shades to his character that temper the stock villain angle he could so easily have devolved into, not out of, I think, a sense of empathy, but in an effort to alter Jude's perception of safety as an adult. The horrific attack(s) by Caleb are, of course, what lead Jude to confront his abuse by Brother Luke and the legions of men who raped him for years in those motel rooms. In the fairy tale nature of the novel, Caleb has all the charm, yet all the ferocity and evil of the big bad wolf.
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-Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

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Re: Official A LITTLE LIFE Thread

Postby CalWilliam » Tue Nov 03, 2015 11:16 am

flipp525 wrote:
CalWilliam wrote:Anyway, I don’t think of A Little Life as a realistic novel, but a meditation of where are mankind’s limits, where are love’s limits, friendship’s, evil’s, resilience’s…

Which, I think, is a great way to look at the novel, CalWilliam. Yanagihara has mentioned in several interviews that she envisioned A Little Life as a "fairy tale" where certain elements are heightened for effect. One other thing she said though that interests me as a counter-balance to that statement, is that nothing in the novel is out of the realm of possibility (which I think is also true).


I like that notion, the realm of possibility, but as long as I was reading The Axiom of Equality, what struck me most was admiting to myself that Caleb's behaviour could really be plausible, I mean, getting to know an interesting, sensitive guy that turned out to be that insane, that evil. Again, maybe I'm too young. What I try to figure out is how Caleb's psyche works, but I didn't get to really understand it, so that was for me the most frustrating part of the novel. What do you think? Did Yanagihara wanted us to empathize wich such a disturbed person? I think she did, but I wasn't able to understand Caleb, though I agree he was a fascinating character for this reason.
"Rage, rage against the dying of the light". - Dylan Thomas

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Re: Official A LITTLE LIFE Thread

Postby flipp525 » Tue Nov 03, 2015 10:01 am

CalWilliam wrote:Anyway, I don’t think of A Little Life as a realistic novel, but a meditation of where are mankind’s limits, where are love’s limits, friendship’s, evil’s, resilience’s…

Which, I think, is a great way to look at the novel, CalWilliam. Yanagihara has mentioned in several interviews that she envisioned A Little Life as a "fairy tale" where certain elements are heightened for effect. One other thing she said though that interests me as a counter-balance to that statement, is that nothing in the novel is out of the realm of possibility (which I think is also true). She specifically states that we tend to only hear the stories of abuse victims who have triumphed over their trauma and she wanted to tell one of the hundreds of thousands of other stories that are out there.

I saw a brilliant production of Tracy Letts' Bug at the Anacostia Arts Center in D.C. this past weekend. The entire play takes place in a run-down motel room and I couldn't help but think about Jude at certain moments.
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Re: Official A LITTLE LIFE Thread

Postby CalWilliam » Mon Nov 02, 2015 7:49 am

I finished it last night, alone in my bed, and today I can say that it has been one of the most emotionally changelling reading experiences of my life. It has affected me more than I expected in the first place. Maybe I’m still too young and unexperienced. I’ll try to collect some of my feelings about it as best as possible.

I agree with you on Malcolm’s underdevelopment as a character, and I’d also say that, all around the novel, Yanagihara has the (not always successful habit) to introduce a lot of information about new minor characters that afterwards it won’t have any sort of impact or relevance in what she is telling. I don’t know if this is a narrative device in order to relief the attention from Jude and Willem or a capricious way to inflate the storytelling. Anyway, Jude and Willem are definitely the focal points, though at the beginning we may think it’s going to be displayed as an alternate perspective of each one of them four. Nevertheless, I think it is structurally successful, though we could agree that, in a minor scale, there’s plenty of reiterative, harrowing material that could have been relieved in some way, even though its seven segments perfectly find their place throughout the book. I consider both Lispenard Street as a prologue and epilogue respectively, being The Postman, Vanities and The Axiom of Equality the first part, and The Happy Years and Dear Comrade the second one. This may seem obvious, but it makes sense to me as a deeply moved reader. It was a beautiful decision to finish the book with the rememberance of that scene of both Jude and Willem in the roof and the fire escape. That was one of the images that stayed with me, considering it as the seed of their future relationship, an utterly wonderful intimate moment. A considerable impact on me had also another scenes like those when Harold tells Jude about the adoption, Jude meeting Caleb (I was thrilled), Jude naked in the street (the most horrendous thing I ever remember reading), and of course, the car accident (I assumed Harold was the one to pass away, not Willem), so I found myself devastated by it. But there are also beautifully written instants, like Willem and Jude’s prolonged embraces in The Happy Years section, a truly work of beauty.

There’s a great deal of things to say, but you’ve already written down many substancial remarks, so I’d only like to add that I found very interesting that Yanagihara didn’t provide any specific physical description of any of the characters, and as for its lack of any kind of historical urgency, I think she intended it to be a timeless tale, where only the intimacy, the psychological insight and the human relations are the world’s moving forces. I’d dare say that, if it was supposed to be placed in any period, it would be before 09/11. Anyway, I don’t think of A Little Life as a realistic novel, but a meditation of where are mankind’s limits, where are love’s limits, friendship’s, evil’s, resilience’s… Their incredible professional succes is only circumstancial and it only seems meant to be a tiny part of a hugely developed intimacy. Even Willem himself at some point recognizes to Jude that he does not want to be remembered for his career as an actor.

I know I’ll keep thinking about Jude and Willem many time for now on and that in some way my perspective of things has leaned a little bit, I don’t know. I do know that if it hadn’t been for this board, I probably would have never read this wonderful book, so I thank you all for that.
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Re: Official A LITTLE LIFE Thread

Postby Mister Tee » Wed Oct 21, 2015 10:38 am

Never say never -- the right talent might make anything into a successful film -- but I not only think a standard feature would find it impossible to capture enough of the book's virtues, I'm dubious even a miniseries would be up to the task. The reason is, I find much if the book's quality lies in its interior aspects -- its characters' inner thoughts; a dramatization, however sensitive and thoughtful, would inevitably center on events, and while some scenes would certainly play -- JB's cruel imitation of Jude, the Caleb segments -- much of the rest would be reductive without the inner interpretations.

Flipp mentioned that early on in the book he was reminded of The Group, and that's a film/novel tandem I think might be analogous. As it happened, I saw the movie of The Group first, and found it generally mediocre/bordering on soap opera. Not long after, I read the book, and the same events that had struck me as routine in the film became far more compelling as told through the eyes of the participants. There are some novels -- many, actually -- that work specifically because of the novelistic technique involve, and when one strips that away, it can be difficult to engage an audience in the same way.

But if course, there are works that seemed resistant to adaptation -- The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Cabaret, The English Patient -- that, thanks to visionary artists, were able to make unexpected leaps and produce notable if not exactly equivalent works of film art. So, I don't rule out the possibility a film version could succeed. But extreme luck and talent would be required, and one can't rely on that.

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Re: Official A LITTLE LIFE Thread

Postby flipp525 » Wed Oct 21, 2015 8:16 am

FilmFan720 wrote:I love the way that the book doles out information, although some of it was a little too forecasted for me and I think loses a bit of the punch because the pieces of the puzzle had already fallen into place for me. The entire Dr. Traylor section seemed a little anti-climactic, though, and I'm glad I'm not the first. I think this is not just what happens to Jude in the basement, but the way it is told. The Brother Luke section of the book is so vivid, and we see the torment in Jude so strongly during it, that the Dr. Traylor stuff felt much more rote and pulpy than anything else in the book. I don't think what Traylor does needs to be worse, but we need to get deeper into Jude's psyche in those moments. I did love, however, that we don't find out how Traylor was caught...in my mind, I don't think Jude knows how he was caught, nor do I think he cares.

I can't get rid of the image of Jude reading Emma in the basement as he waits for Dr. Traylor to come back. I agree with you that the section is anti-climactic and, as Tee mentioned, not quite up to the level of horrors that we've already encountered. But that's one image that has inexplicably stayed with me.
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Re: Official A LITTLE LIFE Thread

Postby FilmFan720 » Wed Oct 21, 2015 7:32 am

flipp, it may be true to life, but I also felt like there weren't a lot of new ideas being revealed. Jude kept having the same ideas and thoughts over and over again, and nothing new was being revealed.

As for a movie, I think an HBO miniseries is the only way it could be done. A feature film would have to go the Owen Meany/East of Eden route and focus on just one small portion of the story (and I fear that would lean more towards the former and not the latter).
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