Hanya Yanagihara, who made a wildly creative debut with The People in the Trees, beautifully navigates several perspectives in A Little Life (Doubleday, $30), narrating the lives of four men in New York City. A tight-knit crew in college, Malcolm, JB, Jude, and Willem stick together after graduation, and the story chronicles their lives, complete with the pivotal moments and festering secrets, both shared and hidden, over decades of friendship. Yanagihara supplies little in the way of concrete physical descriptions and straightforward timelines, instead devoting many pages to expertly paced exposition that delivers powerful emotional punches. Most of these focus on Jude, who is the novel’s fulcrum; the other characters are defined by their relationship with this extraordinarily complicated figure. Yet the group itself has a complex dynamic, and the story traces stubbornness, rivalry, anxiety, and outright fear. Jude, however, has an especially traumatic story, and his emotional and physical scars affect the entire group. Even as the men grow into middle age, their relationships continue to evolve, expanding, shrinking—even spiraling out of control.
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