Archive for the ‘personal histories’ Tag

A Little Life, A Lotta Book   Leave a comment


To say A Little Life is a big book is an understatement. At slightly more than 800 pages it’s, in the words of my greatest presidential fear: Huge, very, very huge. Hanya Yanagihara has crafted a novel that traverses several lives, particularly Jude St. Francis’s. The name is not insignificant. St. Jude is the patron saint of lost causes.

Jude is one of a quartet of friends, Willem, Malcomb and JB, who meet in college. Although the friendships among the four are always part of the story, most of the narrative revolves around Jude and Willem. Their backstories, their lives before college, define them. In fact, Jude’s past is what drives the novel.

From the onset, it’s clear that Jude has secrets. His inability to reveal them is a compelling, and often frustrating, element. It is also evident that Jude is the physically weakest of the foursome. He walks with a limp, which he reluctantly and vaguely attributes to a car accident. He has no family or past connections. He’s awed by the care and companionship of his friends.

Yet, little by little Jude’s history is divulged. As the four men grow older their friendship is often tested. They each pursue different careers, but Jude and Willem remain particularly close throughout.

The power of Yanagihara’s work lies in the personalities and the situations she creates. The author illustrates the definition of friendship through the actions of the characters and shows that the strongest bonds are made of trust. Then love.

A Little Life
Four-and-a-half Bookmarks
Anchor Books, 2016
816 pages

Moving Furniture   Leave a comment

In Great House, Nicole Krauss considers not just how an object is acquir-
ed, but how it is passed on to others. She shows that to bestow and to re-
ceive is not always a welcome, or even happy, occasion.

The novel has multiple characters, but it is really about just one thing: a
desk. Nonetheless, it is transformed from simply being household furniture
to something representing the different traits and lives of its owners. It is
imbued not only with personal histories, but also past world events. In
each of its homes, however, the desk physically overshadows everything
else, so the question that surfaces early on is: why is this particular piece
so important?

I found a lot of similarities between Kraus’s work and Accordion Dreams
by Annie Proulx. Both follow one specific item (in the latter, it’s the title
instrument) and both are haunting. The main difference is that Kraus
shows a connection among the five owners so the result is an amazingly
serendipitous puzzle. Here, Kraus, the author of A History of Love, has
written a fairy tale of sorts. In keeping true to that genre, Great House is
mournful and low on humor.

One problem lies with voice because everyone sounds the same. The pri-
mary distinction among the many narrators is in the descriptions of their
lives, rather than one personality being different from another. It’s the
situation that brings the desk into play and moves the story forward. Ulti-
mately, it’s something inanimate that drives the characters’ experiences.

Great House
Three  Bookmarks
W.W. Norton & Co., 2011
289 pages