*As seen on heyrejectthis.com*
While reading this novel you realize early on that no matter how bad you think it is, there will always be something worse around the corner. That much becomes abundantly clear from the start. Then you trudge on because either you’re a sadist or you can appreciate when someone is telling you a good story and feel the urge to continue. I debated back and forth with myself numerous times before I got to the third part, The Axiom of Equality. Little did I know that that’s when you dive so deep that you cannot pull yourself out. Because in that moment when you finish that part of the book you have to continue, you need to see where the story will end up and if Jude will ever see happiness in his life that lasts longer than a few moments.
This book seems to be comprised of moments, she says it enough that it is actually distracting at times. We see Jude so happy that he seems normal, or achieves a normal state for him. But as you keep reading the moments of happiness are only a small reprieve from the onslaught of pain; whether it was self-inflicted or brought on by terrible people that he can’t seem to get away from. By the end I was hoping for Jude’s death because I couldn’t take the pain he suffered and it looked like that was the only way he would be happy for longer than a moment.
While you find yourself exposed to realities so harsh and cruel and unfair, there are moments that you will hate almost everyone in the book. Jude, you will hate for allowing himself to feel as he is not allowed to be normal and you just want to shake him and scream at him until he realizes that he can be allowed the right to a normal life and get passed it please, for all of us. You will hate Willem, Harold, and Andy for not being more determined to stop Jude for self-harming. You will hate JB for being a stuck up rich boy, seriously get over yourself man. And you will hate the Author for being so damn pretentious with her writing.
Because while she clearly shows command of language and can write in a way that compels you to keep reading, and she better with the subject matter, at times she seems to be showing off her large vocabulary or close proximity to a dictionary. E.g. Parsimoniousness, really? Frugal was to low brow for you? Even beyond vocabulary the need to show off is evident, every single meal is so gourmet, so elegant, so posh, so ridiculous that you would think you were reading a book about a chef that graduated from L’ateleirs des Chefsis, see, google. The writing detracts so much that is was the first reason I thought of putting down the book. That’s right, it wasn’t the overwhelming abuse suffered, the rich-boys complaining, or even the strange pacing that she felt necessary, it was the fact that this is the most pretentious work of literature I have ever read. Absolutely more than the usual victims of being called pretentious; David Foster Wallace, Thomas Pynchon, James Joyce, or Marcel Proust (it’s not prowst).
The structure begins to annoy after a while and someone forgot to tell her that chapters aren’t such a bad thing. There are seven parts in this book. Ranging from 20 pages to more than 200. Six of the seven consisting of no more than three chapters each. Three chapters each. While pacing seems like a strange quarrel to have, and even more so that fact that I am picking on it, I feel compelled to let readers know the effects this has. It slows down and elongates everything that you experience. With books with shorter chapter you get the illusion that you’re reading a book rather quickly, look at the Man Booker winning book A Brief History Of Seven Killing, most of the chapter in that book run no longer than 15 pages with an exception somewhere in the middle. While the subject matter was a bit different, everything felt quicker and the comparison to a Tarantino movie is well justified. But with A Little Life we are exposed to longer chapter and it feels like we are witnessing these terrible things for much longer. It slows everything down, making us experience the terrible events for a longer period of time. Which may very well be what the author intended.
She also seemed to intend on making this book seem “like a fairy tale” which she might of done with the intense exaggeration of everything that happened to Jude. It’s being hailed as the great gay novel and I have to agree on that fact. The way she speaks of the gay culture and the gay identity may be the reason we can call it the great gay novel, for the very reason that she doesn’t make a hue deal about it. Because otherwise drawing a huge amount of attention to them makes them seem like something out of the ordinary, to talk about them the same way any other novelist would talk about straight couples draws them even with everybody and stops the use of gays as a plot device and rather just a run of the mill thing you can encounter in a novel. Even writing this I feel the need to avoid words such as normal, ordinary, “just like everyone else” because inherently they are and using those words makes it seem otherwise, which leads me to feel like I am insulting them, and makes her ability to write without drawing attention all the more admirable. The only thing distracting in this regard is the lack of straight couples. Only a few last until marriage and barely mentioned otherwise. While the emphasis is on gay relationships and are brought up all the time. Which tips the balance from being just like everyone else to them being a special group unlike everyone else. It’s a hard line to toe but she does achieve a good balance on a delicate line. Sexual identity matters aside at a certain point you have to wonder how she came up with the subject matter for this.
In light of this I do have to propose three theories I have on this woman and how she came up with the ideas that drove this book for 700+ pages. 1. She is using Jude as an amalgam of everything terrible that has happened to gays in the last century or so, I.E. priests, beatings, sexual abuse, shaming, self-loathing. 2. She hates men and wants them to feel absolutely terrible for being a part of the male gender and she is taking out her own experiences on the men in the book, I.E. we are sexually driven, aggressive sycophants, driven only by selfish desires and will only pretend to care about others to get our way, 3. She truly wanted to write a novel that would tear your soul out and hurt so bad for a fictional character that your heart ached for a moment when something bad wasn’t happening.
Eventually though, you being to pine for his escape and eventually his death. Because they both mean the same thing, reprieve. Or maybe more appropriately release from this tortured existence. Because no matter how happy, in those moments, he becomes there is always misery around the corner. He is O. from her fictional movie, Life After Death. But as we make our way back to Lispenard Street you get the sense that it’s all going to come to an end. And thankfully it does.
With all the pain, sadness, and heart-wrenching moments that you want to scream stop and hope that it will echo in the pages and to the very core of the characters, you can’t, and you have to accept what you are experiencing. While I won’t recommend this book unless I really want to get back at someone for whatever terrible thing they did to me, I have to say the short moments of love, friendship, companionship, and family resonate so firmly that you can momentarily forget the pain and be happy, and isn’t that what family, friends, and love is for?