For starters, let me say that it is difficult to talk about this book without revealing anything. So if you don't want to know anything about this book, stop here.
Heart-wrenching, frustrating, beautiful, disturbing - Hanya Yanagihara's A Little Life is all those things and more. It is a novel about friendship, abuse, survival, adulthood, and love in its various forms - romantic, friendly, familial, self-love. Four young men meet in college and become friends for life. JP, an aspiring artist, is the most ambitious and arguably the most self-involved. Malcolm, an aspiring architect, is perhaps the most confused and uptight. Willem, an aspiring actor, is the most kindhearted. Jude is sad and mysterious. He doesn't talk about his past, not even how he he came to have a limp. His friends suspect something terrible happened in Jude's childhood. They have no idea what. It ends up being worse than they could have imagined, than I imagined. There were a couple times when I had to put this book down and walk away.
Notwithstanding the very disturbing parts of this story, I'm so glad I read this. The writing is beautiful. Each character is thoroughly and richly drawn, even the secondary characters. Without being judgmental or overly simplistic, Yanagihara slyly comments on race, money, success, and relationships. A Little Life is partly a series of in-depth character studies and partly a social commentary, all wrapped up in a compelling piece of fiction. I can't recommend this highly enough (but with caution for those with trigger concerns).