Thursday, September 24, 2015

Books Read: Booker Prize Edition

Posted By on Thu, Sep 24, 2015 at 11:00 AM

So recently, a coworker was talking about a book he accidentally downloaded — something about witches and vampires. He called it “a horrible piece of filth.”
click to enlarge littlelife.jpg
This is exactly how I would describe a book I’ve been thinking about a lot about lately because of the recent announcement of the shortlist for the 2015 Man Booker Prize for Fiction.

I had seen a link about the Man Booker and clicked to see if I had read any of the titles and to get suggestions. One of the books I had read — the horrible piece of filth, aka A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara.

Now, it wasn’t exactly a surprise about the nomination. After I read the book, incensed, offended, and confused, I googled other reviews and, while I saw similar opinions as mine about the book, the majority of it was effusive praise. I was stunned.

Many, many years ago, I was at a barbecue where a young girl of about four or five told her mother to stop eating her plate of barbecue while she, the girl, ate her meal of McDonald’s or whatever. The mother looked at her incredulously, to which the daughter responded, “I’m not wrong about this.”

I’m not wrong about this.

A Little Life starts follows four men, starting in college and through decades after. They are: the handsome Willem with a gift for people and a sad past; the privileged Malcolm working out his place as a biracial man; the coddled Jean-Baptiste, the artist who demands to be the center of attention; and the brilliant Jude, wracked by a painful but mysterious condition and a more mysterious backstory.

The novel starts out promisingly enough. There’s a St. Elmo’s Fire vibe to it. But then it starts to almost exclusively focus on Jude.

His story is parceled out little by little. And it is horrific. Truly and absolutely. He was abandoned as an infant in a dumpster and ended up in a home with a bunch of monks … you can see where this is going. But then it gets worse and worse yet again to the point where it pushes at the ridiculous. (I’m not wrong about this.) Humans can be bad, sadistic, and it seems the worst of society’s worst ills — all of it — had befallen Jude.

Jude is enveloped by the acceptance of the other three men and finds true, unconditional love in a professor and a doctor. But his demons make him do horrible things to himself. Those around him are terrified and beg him to stop, and Jude pleads, “I’m so sorry” so much over the course of 700-plus pages I was moved to count it. “Sorry” appears 193 times. (That’s about every four pages. To be sure, not all of them are from Jude’s lips but the vast majority are.)

Things start to look up again for Jude, but then …

Jude’s story and A Little Life is straight-up suffering porn. That uneasy feeling you get is not art.

A Little Life is a horrible piece of filth. I’m not wrong about this. 

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