This complex novel by Hanya Yanagihara begins by introducing four men who have just all graduated from New England University and are working to establish their lives in New York City. They are deeply committed to maintaining their friendships with one another despite their diverse personalities and interests. Malcom Irvine is the biracial son of an upper class New York family and is pursing architecture. Jean-Baptiste (JB) is the child of Haitian immigrants, is employed at an art magazine, and is working to establish himself as an artist. Willem Ragnarsson works as a waiter, but is hoping to be an actor one day. Jude St. Francis is a lawyer whose background his friends know little about and eventually becomes the focal point of the story.
The opening pages of the novel focus on the time directly after college and follows the men as they continue to go to parties and figure out what they want to do with their lives. As the novel progresses, Willem, JB, and Malcom take a back seat and Jude and his mysterious past becomes the main focus of the book. Within the first hundred pages (it’s a large book at around 700 pages), readers find out that Jude cuts himself and that his friends have always sort of known this about him but haven’t chosen to address it. Jude shares very little about his past and his friends are left trying to piece together the little bits that they do know. The novel continues and follows Jude closely as he and his friends age and his past is revealed through various flashbacks.
This is for sure one of the best novels I’ve read so far this year. There were moments that I laughed, moments that I cried, and moments where I had to sit the book down because some of the scenes were so horrific. Jude’s past that included years in foster care with almost consistent abuse until going to college, left me with a whole new outlook on foster care and mental illness. Despite Jude’s difficulties, his friends choose to stick around and and be a source of strength and motivation for him to continue on. While the thickness of the book is definitely a little intimidating, it’s most definitely worth the time.