Official A LITTLE LIFE Thread

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Re: Official A LITTLE LIFE Thread

Postby flipp525 » Sun Sep 20, 2015 10:33 am

Okri wrote:I'm) In terms of taking off/awardage, I have to admit I'm a little less optimistic. The Wall Street Journal article says 35,000 copies are in print. That's a good number, but not a HUGE number. It's probably too monied-American for the Booker. The Pulitzer prize rarely goes to the obvious choice (though I think it's well positioned for the NBCCA). I hope it's successful. It's too good not to be.

Are you still less optimistic given the novel's recent placement on the Man Booker shortlist and now the National Book Award nod?

I just have this feeling that A Little Life is growing real momentum and will likely be one of the favorites for the Pulitzer Prize.
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Re: Official A LITTLE LIFE Thread

Postby flipp525 » Thu Sep 17, 2015 11:53 am

Okri wrote:g) Flipp, I would rather any adaptation went long-form, miniseries. But I instantly thought of Montgomery Clift (longest suicide in Hollywood history) for Jude when reading your question.

Okri, there are other things in your post I'd like to respond to but I thought I'd start here. I think a film adaptation could definitely work as a long-form (HBO?) miniseries. HBO did an incredible job recently with Olive Kitteridge (weren't we both in agreement at the time that McDormand's performance in that wiped the floor with any of the actual Best Actress nominees? Not to mention Corey Michael Smith's performance.) and Mildred Pierce before that. Both adaptations stayed utterly true to their respective source material.

If a major studio got ahold of this property and tried to turn it into a two-hour movie with a happy ending, I'd fucking gag. As I mentioned down-thread, I know that Yanagihara has already turned down one film offer so I have to assume she has similar concerns.
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Re: Official A LITTLE LIFE Thread

Postby flipp525 » Thu Sep 17, 2015 10:36 am

The accolades keep piling up. A Little Life has just been longlisted for the 2015 National Book Award:

http://www.nationalbook.org/nba2015.html#.VfrdxckpDxj
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Re: Official A LITTLE LIFE Thread

Postby flipp525 » Wed Sep 16, 2015 9:44 am

New The Atlantic article about the explosion of A Little Life over the summer based on word-of-mouth and social media as well its recent placement on the Man Booker 2015 shortlist (***Warning: MAJOR SPOILERS contained herein***). Not in agreement with much of what this writer has to say about the novel - if you didn't cry at any point while reading this book, I'd start to question whether or not you were human:

http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainmen ... st/405385/
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Re: Official A LITTLE LIFE Thread

Postby CalWilliam » Tue Sep 15, 2015 1:20 pm

I've purchased it and tomorrow it's going to be in my hands. Despite not being translated yet, I'll make the effort of reading it in English encouraged by all your enthousiastic remarks. I would need some tips in order to bear the undertaking (I mean disposition-wise). Thank you for letting us know its existence. There's no information of this book at all in Spain.
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Re: Official A LITTLE LIFE Thread

Postby flipp525 » Tue Sep 15, 2015 9:45 am

FilmFan720 wrote:The book is a nominee for the Man Booker Prize...

It just made the shortlist this morning!
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Re: Official A LITTLE LIFE Thread

Postby FilmFan720 » Tue Sep 15, 2015 8:02 am

The book is a nominee for the Man Booker Prize...

I am justs over a hundred pages in. I had a real hard time getting started, but now I have started getting sucked in with Jude's story. I'm avoiding the rest of this thread, though :)
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Re: Official A LITTLE LIFE Thread

Postby Okri » Thu Sep 10, 2015 10:50 pm

Random thoughts in the order they come to me and musings on comments made in this thread.

a) A couple years ago, I was reading a biography of Van Gogh and I was completely into it. When I had about a quarter of the book left, I put it down briefly to wiki Theo van Gogh (I know, why wiki/research in the middle of a biography, but t'is the world I inhabit). The biography had done such a terrific job of detailing his exhaustion and frustration with his brother and the sheer bloody-mindedness of the painter himself and I was wondering if he got a chance to witness the success of his brother's paintings. To find out he had died only six months after him absolutely wrecked me. Like I actually put the book down for a month because I didn't want to get to that point. When Willem died.... oh, man, I was ready to put the book down and never touch it again. I felt like a kid almost, like if I stopped reading, the characters existed at that point only.

b) God, the number of times I looked away from the pages to wipe away tears....

c) I have a friend who says I "stalk art." Anything that passes a certain threshold, I guess, trips into something like obsession for me. I actually woke up a couple mornings and started immediately thinking about A Little Life. Mark Harris said it perfectly when he said "fall deep" into the novel. I don't normally race through books this long this quickly (though, yes, I'm proud that I did) but "soul-engrossing" is right.

d) Flipp, the methodical reveals worked for me, up to a point. You mention the "not having sex" line. It's heartbreaking, but it becomes even more so with the immediate (next page) reference to Jude prostituting himself (being prostituted by Luke - I don't recall specifically which at this point) . Again, wrecked me.

e) If this book is heartbreaking, "Dear Comrades" is the absolute apex of its emotion. The way Yanagihara articulates that curdled rage that grief can contain is a thing of remarkable power.

f) The "axiom of zero" elegy was beautiful. If it was an anathema to me to write in books, I would've highlighted that entire passage. But the entire book is marked with moments like that. The "x = x" passage. Harold's chapters. The "who am I/who are you" speech.

g) Flipp, I would rather any adaptation went long-form, miniseries. But I instantly thought of Montgomery Clift (longest suicide in Hollywood history) for Jude when reading your question.

h) I will say I didn't quite get that passage of time from the book. Or, more accurately, I didn't feel the world change at all. It spanned decades, but so little of the world intruded into the book - no changing technology, fashions, etc. It didn't bother me too much but she would drop a birthday or repeated Thanksgivings and that's what signposted the passage of time more than anything else.

i) That grace, Mister Tee mentioned, is the sign of a terrifically mature storyteller. I go back to the ending (so pitch perfect) where we learn of Jude's death. We know it's coming, of course, but the way Yanagihara depicts it is wonderfully generous. She gives it the gravity and impact it merits, but also surrounds it in Jude telling the story about leaping from the fire escape. How beautiful is it for the author to give us secretive Jude telling a story as the final beat. "And then he did."

j) Tee, while I agree Malcolm feels a little underthought (especially because she's so generous with many of other supporting characters - Andy, for example), I almost like the deft way she burrows in on Jude (and Willem).

k) I didn't mind the wealth, though the way Richard works into conversation that he gets a building every five years was, well, not a terrific moment.

l) Dr. Traylor was the least effective part of the book, but I was kind of okay with that. I needed Jude to be better/healthier. I definitely get why she eased off the pedal.

m) In terms of taking off/awardage, I have to admit I'm a little less optimistic. The Wall Street Journal article says 35,000 copies are in print. That's a good number, but not a HUGE number. It's probably too monied-American for the Booker. The Pulitzer prize rarely goes to the obvious choice (though I think it's well positioned for the NBCCA). I hope it's successful. It's too good not to be.

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Re: Official A LITTLE LIFE Thread

Postby Mister Tee » Mon Sep 07, 2015 9:06 pm

And a tweet to confirm what we're saying:

Mark Harris ‏@MarkHarrisNYC 9m9 minutes ago
To everyone who told me that I would fall deep into the novel A Little Life and not want to leave it: Thanks. You were right.

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Re: Official A LITTLE LIFE Thread

Postby flipp525 » Mon Sep 07, 2015 1:11 pm

Fantastic podcast interview with Hanya Yanagihara linked below. This isn't the interview that I had mentioned earlier, but she does touch upon some of the same things including this idea of the vastness of America and the stories hidden in small houses and motels along the highway. There's also a disturbing anecdote I hadn't heard before of some real-life inspiration for the Jude/Brother Luke characters:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b064f5dk

Tee, my friend went to three different Barnes & Noble stores looking for the book and was unable to find it. He finally found it at Kramerbooks in Dupont (which is where I told him to go first!) I think you're right that the novel has officially taken off.

I also can only guess that a film adaptation can't be too many years off (all the examples you listed were also made into films, some quite quickly following the source material's publication). I know that Yanagihara has already rejected one big offer for the film rights of A Little Life. I'm unable to picture a project like that at this point because the novel (and the characters as I constructed them) are still so much in my own mind, I feel very protective of those images as I'm sure Yanagihara does as well.
Last edited by flipp525 on Tue Sep 08, 2015 9:20 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Official A LITTLE LIFE Thread

Postby Mister Tee » Sat Sep 05, 2015 1:39 pm

That Wall Street Journal article confirms the feeling I had, that this book could really take off. I went to buy a copy for a relative last week, and Barnes & Noble was sold out of it. And when I mentioned my niece loving it, I maybe should have added that she's in a job here in NY that advocates for literary writers; her enthusiasm matters.

This kind of unexpected success -- based almost solely on reader enthusiasm -- has of course recently happened for a number of books I'd view as mediocre: The Kite Runner, Water for Elephants. It's gratifying when it happens for a work of greater quality. Though they're obviously very different kinds of books, it reminds me a bit of the way The World According to Garp took off in 1979. Irving is of course now an established best-selling writer, but then was he little-known, and, while the book had been well-regarded, it was no phenomenon till it hit paperback. I read it in about four days, and, over the months that followed, I heard stories about the least likely people raving over it and recommending it to friends. This may not happen to quite such a extent for A Little Life -- there are probably pockets of people who won't be able to deal with the amount of gay content (however non-hardcore it is) -- but I think there's a pretty substantial upward potential.

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Re: Official A LITTLE LIFE Thread

Postby flipp525 » Fri Sep 04, 2015 9:21 am

Great article from the WSJ about the unexpected success of A Little Life:

http://www.wsj.com/articles/a-little-li ... 1441312965
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Re: Official A LITTLE LIFE Thread

Postby flipp525 » Wed Sep 02, 2015 10:42 am

First off, it's hard to believe that this book was written in just eighteen months. And while the author was holding down a full-time job as the editor of a major magazine. That's astounding to me.

Tee, I cosign 100% the last paragraph of your post. "Soul-engrossing" is a very on-point description of the experience of reading this book.

To continue on a couple interesting points raised by Tee and to put forth a few others (some of these thoughts are very random):

So, while I was reading, I was like, "Well, of course this is who Jude ends up with in his first adult relationship." Yes. I can totally believe that there are men like Caleb out there. Very realistic. So, Tee, I totally get what you're saying when you state that Caleb is a "wonderful character." He's just very wonderfully true, especially in that moment for a character like Jude. I also think that his appearance in the story is a major turning point for the novel. For, it's after Caleb that Jude's full past with Brother Luke is finally revealed as well as the subsequent suicide attempt (which Yanagihara, of course, haunts the character - and the reader - with for the rest of the novel until he finally succumbs). I've also definitely never read about a fictional gay male domestic violence situation and this one is just so brutal, it's difficult to read - one of my first moments of having to seriously put the book down and summon the will to go on, fearful of what I was going to read next. I also don't think I've read a book where a single character is raped this many times. I simply lost count at a certain point.

Mister Tee wrote:But I do think Malcolm was given somewhat short shrift by the narrative. All other characters get major attention at some point – Willem for his career and his many feelings about Jude, JB for his family history and drug issues (and for being an unusual presence in the lives of the others: a friend, by longevity, but someone you can never really trust won’t turn on you and wound you grievously, as he does to Jude in the moment flipp highlights).


In my mind, Yanagihara pulls a bait-and-switch in the first quarter or so of A Little Life, luring you into thinking it's a certain kind of novel: four young men making it on their own in NYC, sort of an all-male version of Mary McCarthy's The Group, a comparison I had thought about before reading it in a couple reviews. But then she reveals that she has a larger, darker project in mind. But, yes, Malcom definitely gets short-shrifted, a choice that Yanagihara seems to have made and completely stuck with for the duration of the novel. What I thought was interesting though was that after Mal's death, Jude revisits the Irvine family and we get some details about Malcom and his life during the years that we haven't really been treated to in real-time, including that wonderful detail about the time when Malcom says to Jude that Jude doesn’t understand what it's like having parents or something and then is immediately regretful of saying it to him and apologizes again for it years later. That felt very "Malcom" to me. He seemed like a stabilizing force for Jude. And his parents were also very important to him. I was interested that Malcom had a crush on Willem that was described early on in the novel in his (one) section. I had thought the author might revisit that later when Willem and Jude become a couple, but it almost seems like any angst he might've had over that union is grafted onto the character of JB.

I thought the section after Willem died was a very true exploration of someone experiencing profound grief. I had a feeling that Jude wouldn't last too long without Willem, but he lasted longer than I thought he would. As soon as Andy said that he was giving up his practice, I knew Jude wouldn't make it.

I loved the slow reveal of Jude and Willem's relationship and how, like Tee mentioned, we're reading about it almost in post at times. I didn't see it coming that they'd become romantically involved. (And, as an aside, I was so scared during the part where it seemed like Willem might hit Jude. That would've been devastating for me to read at that point.) And how the issue of sex is handled between the two is just incredibly (and respectfully) explored by the author, you mentioned. It was interesting to hear about sex from Jude's point of view and then to learn from Willem that Jude is very dexterous in bed. There's such a strange feeling we have as readers because we know the sad truth of why he's such an old pro in the bed even though Willem does not and enjoys being with him so much physically.

I found it pretty thrilling how utterly real the art described in the book felt to me. JB's paintings seemed especially realized on the page. I could very much picture them especially, "Willem Listening to Jude Tell a Story" which I loved the description of. Also, "Jude with a Cigarette." Yanagihara posted a painting on Instagram that she says mimics the style of JB's work (in her mind) on that feed.

Some of Willem's films seemed really good! I was particularly interested in "The Dancer and the Stage" (or, "The Happy Years" as it's originally titled) as well as "Henry and Edith" about the friendship between Henry James and Edith Wharton. Yanagihara's ability to fill out a world with particularly just felt utterly seamless to me throughout the novel. I could really picture Jude's Greene Street condo (as well as the Lispenard Street apartment, Jude and Willem's country home, Harold and Julia's dusty, professorial cozy warren in Truro, etc.) because of the descriptions of characters doing things inside of them. So many times in reading stories during my MFA years, it would feel like the writer had characters living in a boundless, immaterial void with no specificity. In this book, that was just never the case.

There is an interesting lack of redemption in the book. I listened to this great podcast recently with Yanagihara discussing what she was going for in that regard and it was really illuminating. She was questioning this idea that people should always pick themselves up by their boot-straps and soldier on through life no matter what. She was like, "Sometimes they just shouldn't. Sometimes they can't." I thought this was incredibly astute commentary. I can understand how even with the amazing successes in Jude's life and fortifying relationships of his adulthood that he couldn't shake his past. I think Yanagihara builds a past for him throughout the novel (painstakingly and brutally) that would be almost impossible to shake. In the same podcast, she talks about how she wanted to know what happens to these young victims after their trauma. Such an interesting jumping off point.

During the same podcast, Yanagihara described some of her childhood which sounded very transient. She mentioned spending a lot of time in motel rooms across the country which is something that obviously found its way into this novel. And passing by the motels on highways and wondering what was happening in them and realizing that there were so many stories that no one got to hear. If I can find a link to the podcast, I'll post it in this thread because I really got a ton out of it.

I loved that moment when Willem recognized that he was a simple person who'd somehow ended up with the most complicated of people. That made perfect sense.

I think the extreme wealth of the characters is a way of going over-the-top in order to heighten the fable-like, fairy tale nature of what the author is trying to achieve. They really all are fantastically successful though! And, Tee, I thought the award Willem won was actually the Oscar (who would really care who he'd "brought" with him to the SAG awards where they're all seated at those tables?) Winning the Oscar also seemed to fit in with the "extreme success" theme of the book.

The Harold sections were just beautifully written. And what a good choice to end the book on one.

Mister Tee wrote:As to flipp’s structural question about Jude’s backstory: in general I was fine with how the details evolved; from the throwaway references, I got to know the cast of characters, and I presumed we’d eventually get to the worst stuff. But I have to say it petered out for me by the later chapters. Insensitive as this may sound, after a certain point of reading piled-up atrocities, there comes a narrative need for each to top the previous one, and I didn’t feel that last sequence, with Dr. Traylor, quite did the job. I’d long figured the “car injury” meant someone had run him over, so there was no surprise there, and the fact of his being imprisoned for a few weeks didn’t feel that much worse than the apparent non-stop barrage of sexual abuse he’d been experiencing in the monastery, with Brother Luke, and in wherever he’d been placed afterward. I hate to think in these terms, but that thread of the story could have used a bigger finish. (Tangential issue: though I approved of most ellipses in the book, I was frustrated at never hearing how Dr. Traylor was caught. Jude refers to Ana having told him what the doctor confessed, but I can’t see, from the story as presented, how he’d have been tracked down. I was also a bit unclear how Jude made the leap from there to getting into college.)


I absolutely agree with you that Jude's backstory needed a "bigger finish." By the time I got to the Dr. Traylor section, I (like you, I think) was expecting something on the level of the Marquis de Sade, especially with the previous descriptions of how mottled and damaged the skin on Jude's back is. Are we supposed to believe that he got those from beatings in the barn at the home? Because that just didn't seem enough. Dr. Traylor was beyond creepy (and I couldn't help but think that his basement had been home to several other young men before Jude), but there were plot-holes there too. How did Jude go from getting run over by Traylor in a remote, icy field to being rescued and then placed into Ana's care? How was Traylor caught? For a novel that trafficks (poor choice of words, perhaps) so much in Jude's backstory, it did feel like she had possibly run out of steam at the end OR felt like she needed to ease the pedal off of the atrocities that Jude had suffered up until that point (which, to - I think - both of us, was not the right choice.)

So, not to brag or anything, but I just had to share this: Hanya Yanagihara sent me a custom-made tote bag with "Jude&JB&Willem&Malcom" printed on it. It arrived in the mail this week. She gifted it to me as a thank you for my support of her novel. (She found me on Instagram and sought out my mailing address.) I consider A Little Life to be a watershed book in my extensive reading life thus far and getting something like that directly from the author herself was beyond thrilling.
Last edited by flipp525 on Fri Sep 04, 2015 6:30 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Official A LITTLE LIFE Thread

Postby FilmFan720 » Tue Sep 01, 2015 10:03 pm

Haven't read these yet, but just loaded this onto my Nook...can't wait to delve in!
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Re: Official A LITTLE LIFE Thread

Postby Mister Tee » Tue Sep 01, 2015 9:18 pm

I still don’t have the time to do the book justice, but some thoughts to get it started. (And, yes, thanks to okri for providing the space)

It was an easy book for me to dive into and empathize with: college friends who move to NY, to pursue mostly arts-related careers, is pretty much my life (though it takes place in a far different NY than the one to which I moved in the 70s. The book spans several decades, but, by technology and neighborhood references, it appears to begin present-day and then just move forward.) I was drawn in by all the characters at their youthful, just-getting-a-toehold stage, and found each of their family histories compelling; I was quickly ready to follow them through their life journeys.

Of course, it turns out that, while the book deals with the career progress of all four, it’s ultimately more concerned with the interior lives of those characters – especially Jude, who has a background of abuse that boggles the mind, but also JB, who fights drug demons, and Willem, who needs to come to grips with a love that doesn’t fit inside usual boundaries. There are of course a few major events along the way (the adoption, the suicide attempt, the car accident), and much detailed revelation of Jude’s past, but mostly the book soars on its accumulation of small details. Life, as the title implies, is a collection of little things that are important – some awful, some beautiful.

My niece called it a book “thoroughly entrancing in its sadness”. It’s certainly got many moments that evoked heartbreak -- maybe moreso for me than some, given that I’ve both taken care of an invalid over a long period of time AND lost the person most central to my life – so I can empathize with both Willem and Jude. But I don’t see the book as just a downer. It’s rather an attempt to come to grips with a character – Jude – so brutalized in his early years that dozens of people telling him he’s worthy of their love can’t convince him of the fact. Many of us, I imagine, have some smaller version of this running in our heads, but with Jude it goes to the bone. And yet…for a while, Willem makes him almost accept the idea that maybe/kind of/on certain days, he’s worth something. But then Willem is cruelly snatched away from him, at which point it becomes incumbent on the other characters – Harold, especially – to accept that it’s Jude’s life, and if ending it is the only way to alleviate his pain, you have to grant him that option.

Harold is a wonderful character, by the way, and so is Andy (and, in a hideous-but-compelling way, Caleb is, as well).

A style-choice I particularly like is Yanagihara’s skipping past certain dramatic flashpoints – not avoiding them altogether, but stopping the narrative just prior to a confrontation (say, Willem making his proposal to Jude, or Jude making the suicide attempt), and resuming with the deed already in the past: Jude reflecting on the fact that he and Willem have been together for a while now; Jude waking up in the hospital, clearly still alive. The key moments aren’t omitted – they’re mostly fully described, but in retrospect, so the sense of dread or discomfort we might feel having to live through them is alleviated; dealing with the fact of them, not the suspense surrounding them. This applies a certain level of grace to the story-telling. In fact, I think Yanagihara achieves unusual grace in her writing throughout – even when she describes awful things done to Jude, it isn’t in such grisly fashion that I felt any impulse to turn away (though I never quite got accustomed to Jude cutting himself; that hurt anew each time). She also manages to write extensively about sexual matters without ever letting it turn cheaply erotic. Let me add: there’s nothing wrong with cheap eroticism in other contexts, but, given how sensitive a subject it is for Jude, it would have been a betrayal of him as a character if any of the moments described had offered any level of turn-on. The gentle distance Yanagihara achieves feels like just the right approach for the subject matter.

As I said, I have a few quibbles:

I don’t mind that a book that starts out about four friends eventually becomes dominantly Jude’s book – he’s the most unique character, for certain. But I do think Malcolm was given somewhat short shrift by the narrative. All other characters get major attention at some point – Willem for his career and his many feelings about Jude, JB for his family history and drug issues (and for being an unusual presence in the lives of the others: a friend, by longevity, but someone you can never really trust won’t turn on you and wound you grievously, as he does to Jude in the moment flipp highlights). But Malcolm, except for the very brief “I feel guilty about being rich” section near the start, feels negligibly developed – as if his main function is simply to be the “other” victim in the car crash. I’m not asking for a ton more – in a book that’s plenty long – but it feels out of balance for one character to be short-changed like this, and maybe under-thought.

And on the subject of wealth: I found it a bit hard to accept (even believe) that each one of the four characters would become so unimpeachably successful in their chosen fields. JB gets exhibitions at major museums, Willem wins some kind of top award (the book’s coy about labelling it, but it’s SAG at minimum), Malcolm seems to be designing for half the world, and Jude is such a killer litigator they offer him control of the firm. In my experience, college-era friends achieve varied levels of success: I know people who’ve done extremely well, others who’ve floundered at mid-level. Here, they’re all masters of the universe, which, by late in the book, brings them all to a level of affluence that’s a tiny bit alienating: when they start making each other feel better by meeting together in some exotic foreign restaurant, I’m thinking, must be nice being in the .01%. It cut me out of their world, a bit.

As to flipp’s structural question about Jude’s backstory: in general I was fine with how the details evolved; from the throwaway references, I got to know the cast of characters, and I presumed we’d eventually get to the worst stuff. But I have to say it petered out for me by the later chapters. Insensitive as this may sound, after a certain point of reading piled-up atrocities, there comes a narrative need for each to top the previous one, and I didn’t feel that last sequence, with Dr. Traylor, quite did the job. I’d long figured the “car injury” meant someone had run him over, so there was no surprise there, and the fact of his being imprisoned for a few weeks didn’t feel that much worse than the apparent non-stop barrage of sexual abuse he’d been experiencing in the monastery, with Brother Luke, and in wherever he’d been placed afterward. I hate to think in these terms, but that thread of the story could have used a bigger finish. (Tangential issue: though I approved of most ellipses in the book, I was frustrated at never hearing how Dr. Traylor was caught. Jude refers to Ana having told him what the doctor confessed, but I can’t see, from the story as presented, how he’d have been tracked down. I was also a bit unclear how Jude made the leap from there to getting into college.)

These are all, I assure you, small issues for me – just things I’d have offered the writer had she asked me for notes on her work. But I’d also have told her this was as soul-engrossing a novel as I’ve read in some time; that I devoured its 700 pages in about ten days, and resented being called away by life-necessities when I could have been reading further; and that, once I’d finished, I felt regret at leaving this universe in which I spent such compelling time.
Last edited by Mister Tee on Tue Sep 01, 2015 10:16 pm, edited 1 time in total.


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