This post contains spoilers for A Little Life. Read at your own discretion.
This isn’t an elegant post and it isn’t an incredibly rich one, but it’s real and it’s from me and it’s an effort to fight back against the demons I have behind my eyes.
For my Popsugar 2016 Reading Challenge, I had to read a book that was over 600 pages. Initially, I was planning on reading Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables. However, when I went to my local Indie to pick up some other books for the challenge, a cover caught me out of the corner of my eye. Peter Hujar’s Orgasmic Man is the shelf-stopping cover of a book I hadn’t heard of then – A Little Life. I knew I had to have it and put the books in my hand back so I could buy it.
Something happened to me while I was reading this, something I’ve ever experienced – I was forced to stop.
If you don’t know my story, here’s a good place to start. One of the things I had stolen from me was my ability to objectively enjoy works like this. As part of the healing process, I started watching Law and Order: Special Victims Unit. The goal was to ultimately desensitize me to trauma triggers, so that I could begin to reenter normal society. Long story short, it worked, and I soon came to enjoy the show. What it didn’t do for me was get at the heart of the problem, and I made the error that this desensitized state meant I was alright, that I had somehow moved past my assault.
I’ll have a review up on Goodreads soon for the quality of this book, but I’m going to qualify my review with the fact that I brought baggage to the book that more than likely impacted my ability to enjoy it. In this post, I’d like to give you the unadulterated version (As mentioned above, spoilers are below).
What Yanagihara did well in this was to paint an authentic portrait of the long lasting effects of abuse. What she also did well was managing to create a pitiful and helpless victim, a character so devoid of hope, his own skin was disintegrating into him. I hated Jude. I hated him. I hated how he made me feel, how he tapped into the deepest darkest corners of me and made me look at the demons I already know live there. These demons, battering me and reminding me who I am, is what ultimately forced me to stop. As much as I hate what this book did to me, I hate more what it said about me.
A Little Life is a bestselling book, which means thousands of people have read it. What it also means is that thousands of people now have this idea of abuse victims being weak and hopeless and lost causes. Reading this, as I got darker and darker, I also got angrier. This is not my reality and even though Jude had more severe trauma than I did, I choose to believe that this is not the reality that someone like Jude has to be bound to.
There was nothing I enjoyed about reading this and I discourage everyone from reading it as well.
I’m angry and I’m sad and I’m dark and I know it’ll take some time to find the light again. But I am not Jude. I am not a sad thing hanging in the corner begging everyone to leave me to my misery, pushing and pulling and tearing myself open to find an end to the means. I will find the light again.
When I first decided to abandon this (and the second, third, and fourth times), I felt weak. If I couldn’t finish this, didn’t that mean that Ken had won, that he had something over me? And this time it wouldn’t be just memories or love or intimacy – it’d be something that I’ve enjoyed, and something I’ve used to escape the problems of real life. And if that was true, then wasn’t I Jude? Didn’t I have to be?
No. I’ve come to realize that Jude was right about himself. He should hate himself. But he should hate his creator more. He should hate himself, not for what Brother Luke or the others did to him, but because he’s supposed to represent all of us in the real world trying to do the best job we can, and he’s doing a piss poor job. He doesn’t stand for me, and he doesn’t act like anyone from the community I’ve met.
I hate Jude. I motherfucking hate Jude. But the thought of people, many of them, out there, think that Jude is who I am, or who the beautiful people I’ve met are, makes me sick to the very pit of me.