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Literature / A Little Life

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"Orgasmic Man" by Peter Hujar, 1969
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Nominated for the Man Booker Prize 2015, Hanya Yanagihara’s second novel is a heartbreaking (often disturbingly graphic) story of trauma, but also a deeply poignant story of friendship and love.


This book provides examples of:

  • Ambiguously Brown: Jude is this In-Universe. He obviously isn't entirely white, but due to him being abandoned as an infant, no one really knows WHAT he is. Though going by the author's physical descriptions, it seems most likely he's of Native American or Hispanic descent.
  • Anachronic Order: Jude's past is revealed throughout the book in flashback. Even in the course of the main story, focus jumps around quite a bit, mentioning things that happened months or even years ago and then coming back to the present. Certain sections are told from Harold's point of view, and it becomes clear at the end that these are told after the main story is over.
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  • Apologises a Lot: Jude apologizes for EVERYTHING, to the point where it becomes grating for the other characters (and the reader).
  • Asshole Victim: When it's revealed that Caleb has died due to pancreatic cancer, none of the central characters are saddened by this news.
  • Backstory Horror: The whole concept of the novel is driven by this.
  • Bastard Boyfriend: Caleb to Jude.
  • Bi the Way: Willem has several girlfriends throughout the first two-thirds of the novel, but at the start of The Happy Years, it's casually mentioned that Willem has had sex with men as well.
  • Body Horror: reading about the injuries to Jude's spine and legs can be pretty disturbing. And then there's the cutting...
  • Broken Pedestal: Jude idolizes Brother Luke during his time at the monastery, and doesn't know that Brother Luke has very sinister intentions for him.
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  • Bunker Woman: Jude is a rare Spear Counterpart to this trope.
  • Cast Full of Gay: Hardly anyone is heterosexual. Even a character who is shown only to have a sexual interest in women ends up in a relationship with a man.
  • Demoted to Extra: Malcolm and JB both begin as main characters and while they play a central role at the start of the story, both begin to dwindle into the background, and only make occasional appearances in later parts of the novel.
  • Despair Event Horizon: After Willem's death, there really is no hope left for Jude.
  • Doorstopper: Stands at 720 pages.
  • Downer Ending: The final part of Harold's letter reveals that Jude kills himself in a violent manner, and died believing he owed Harold and Julia an apology for the kind of person he was. On top of that, several other characters died prior to the final part, and very few of the main characters have survived.
  • Driven to Suicide: Jude has everything prepared before attempting a very violent suicide. He does not succeed. At the end of the book, however, he injects himself with an empty needle and dies.
  • Gender Rarity Value: After his father died, JB was the only guy in his matrifocal extended family, and all the women fussed over him quite a bit.
  • Internalized Categorism: Jude, definitely. He feels great shame over what happened in his past, and he can't see himself ever moving beyond it.
  • Interplay of Sex and Violence: A common trope throughout all of Jude's significant romantic relationships.
  • It's All About Me: Jude, somewhat. He isn't a selfish person, but he focuses so much on his own suffering that he often fails to acknowledge what others may be going through.
    • JB is a much straighter example, which is why many fans of the book consider him The Scrappy.
  • Kill 'Em All: At the end, only a handful of characters survive, and of the four friends only JB is alive.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: The day after a horrific fight with Jude, Willem has a small breakdown in his own apartment because of his guilt.
  • Outliving One's Offspring: Harold, Julia, and the Irvines.
  • Parental Favoritism: Malcolm feels certain that his parents prefer his sister.
  • Pedophile Priest: Boy, howdy. Brother Luke, but recurrent.
  • Rape Leads To Promiscuity: Partially deconstructed. Jude is promiscuous as a result of his rape, but generally in other abusive relationships.
  • Sex Slave: Jude to both the priests and then, later, his kidnapper.
  • Shipper on Deck: When Andy finds out Willem has feelings for Jude, he seems completely unsurprised, and remarks that he had his suspicions all these years. He encourages Willem to act on his feelings.
  • Sir Swears-a-Lot: Andy.
  • Title Drop: A deeply disturbing example, as Brother Luke tells Jude to show a little life while having sex with clients.
  • Trauma Conga Line: Jude's entire childhood in a nutshell.

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