A book I read last spring ruined me for books for a little while. Because after I finished, I had such a book hangover that I didn’t feel ready to go back to the trough right away. When I did, the first 50 pages of anything would feel so pale by comparison that I’d wander off mentally, then physically. It didn’t help that we were in the midst of moving, so my attention span was pretty compromised.
The book is A LITTLE LIFE, by Hanya Yanagihara, and news came out last week that it had made the longlist of nominees for the National Book Award. Irrationally, I felt a pride of relational ownership, like a niece had made the US hopscotch team, because that’s what falling in love with a (then) little-known book feels like to me. You become its advocate, you feel like everyone should see how spectacular it is — what, you’ve never seen my niece hopscotch? how can you not have seen that fancy footwork, those vertiginous transitions between movements…
I don’t recommend the book wily-nily to everyone because it’s a tough read — not tough on the sentence level, but in the sense that the subject matter isn’t for the faint of heart, circling back constantly to the suffering in a character’s past and how he struggles to overcome it, secretly, his entire life. I won’t say more, though the reviews always do, because I think it diminishes the scope of the book, intimidates potential readers, and ruins the joy of discovery. But to me it was a brilliant book about lifelong male friendship, a topic not often written about with depth unrelated to sports or military, and what it truly means to look out for one another.
Someone brought this collection of quotes (http://lithub NULL.com/hanya-yanagiharas-a-little-life-in-10-quotations/) to my attention the other day, a blog feature that offers a hopscotchy sense of a novel through 10 chronological excerpts. I think it gives as good a sense of the book as any review, and without any real spoilers, which is nearly impossible to do.
I can’t promise you’ll fall for it as arrestingly as I did. But I can promise you’ll never forget the characters brought so brilliantly, heartbreakingly to life in Jude and Willem.
Of Jude: “Always, he wonders why and how he has let four months—months increasingly distant from him—so affect him, so alter his life. But then, he might as well ask—as he often does—why he has let the first fifteen years of his life so dictate the past twenty-eight. He has been lucky beyond measure; he has an adulthood that people dream about: Why, then, does he insist on revisiting and replaying events that happened so long ago? Why can he not simply take pleasure in his present? Why must he honor his past? Why does it become more vivid, not less, the further he moves from it?”
Inside is a rotting old couch, a 1950s wooden high chair, modern plastic Disney toys, and a 12-candle platter like an altar in the middle. Several pages of scribbles from a little girl named Helen, who wrote the word MUSIC several times in large childish lettering, then in a tiny controlled corner of the back of the page, “And now I know.” Underneath is a deep, cold root cellar.
I don’t know whether to claim squatter’s rights and start writing there, or keep a respectfully wide margin spooked by the backstory I’m certain it has.
Afterward I suggested that maybe he could have toned it down.
Him: “But he might need to know everything about me.”
Me: “He doesn’t need to know that you can make fart sounds blowing against your arm.”
Driving past highway construction last night, had a heated conversation with the younger boys about jobs that sometimes require working when other people are sleeping.
Nope, shouldn’t be necessary, says the 5yo.
“What about doctors and nurses in hospitals?” I ask him. “Should sick people be told, ‘Sorry, no one can keep you alive during the nighttime?’ “
Him, shaking his head: “That’s a tough call. Don’t ask me that question. I’m just a kid.”
The 5yo on Kindergarten soccer.
“Everyone says to be aggressive,” he complains. “But it would be a lot easier if the other guy just walked away from the ball.”
The kittens have arrived! They were discovered on Saturday morning, March 7th, at 7am — 4 of them, three boys and a girl.
Winner of the kitten pool — through my complicated algorithm of factors — is Samantha Shapiro. Email me your book of choice, and if you want a recommendation, you know I have them galore.
Yesterday I got an email through the Animal Rescue League foster group that a pregnant young cat had come in. She needed a foster home, stat, for the delivery and early weeks. We’ve fostered 3 rounds of kittens, starting at about 5 weeks of age, but never been fortunate enough to get the brass ring: the chance to be present for a birth and the early newborn experience.
I called Tom. The other end of the line went silent, then a wry laugh. “You’re serious.” To his credit, always to his credit, he shrugs and says yes to bringing on more crazy. He didn’t start off as a cat person, and the past year’s revolving door of kittens is not what he signed on for. But he carried the dog’s crate and a whelping box upstairs while I drove with the little boys to pick her up at the shelter.
She’s a sweet anxious youngster and ready to go any time now. Naturally, we named her Juno.
Here’s the skinny (or not so skinny) for the baby pool: she’s a petite pixie with a rock-solid middle but not overly wide. She’s walking around but doesn’t seem agitated. She’s eating and drinking a little.
Person who most closely guesses the:
a) size of litter
b) date/hour, and
c) ratio of boys/girls
wins the paperback of their choice. I’ll buy it from Wellesley Books (http://www NULL.wellesleybooks NULL.com/) and mail it to you (within the US). Game on!
In the meantime, keep this sweet girl in your thoughts. She’s got an adventure ahead of her, and she’s gotta do it by herself.
One of the good things about having the laundry on the second floor is that it gives a drive-by proximity to the kids’ bedrooms. I can casually check in. Ask questions and just maybe get a real answer. Sing loudly, terribly, to get a rise out of them.
While I rush through t-shirts and ripped jeans, thinking about where I left off writing and hoping I can pick up, random gems come from their rooms. The 5-year-old talking to the fish. The 9-year-old reading his Valentines aloud. This morning I overheard the 7-year-old singing “We Shall Overcome” in a soft operatic Ethel Merman.
This afternoon I was folding alongside the 14-year-old’s door. He always goes right to homework after school, but had seemed a little more reclusive than usual. “Hey in there. You solve world peace yet? Cure cancer?”
“Almost,” he said. “I’m on it.”
I didn’t go in, as much as I wanted to, and ask what was up, who he was texting, what he was thinking about trying out for spring baseball. We just exchanged one-liners through the dryer wall.
Next house we buy, second floor laundry is my top priority.