Scarred and scared

Alittlelife

Fairness is for happy people, for people who have been lucky enough to have lived a life defined more by certainties than by ambiguities.
Right and wrong, however, are for—well, not unhappy people, maybe, but scarred people; scared people.

Χάνια Γιαναγκιχάρα, A Little Life

Perhaps not so little

Alittlelife

Η Χάνια Γιαναγκιχάρα συζητά με τον επιμελητή της, Τζέρι Χάουαρντ, με αφορμή την έκδοση του A Little Life (εν θερμώ ρεπορτάζ από τα μισά της ανάγνωσης: τεράστιο, όχι μόνο ως προς τον αριθμό των σελίδων όσο, και κυρίως, σε συναισθηματική και λογοτεχνική δύναμη — ένα από τα σπάνια εκείνα μυθιστορήματα που απαιτούν να ζήσεις μαζί τους για ένα διάστημα, αν και απροσδόκητο δεύτερο βήμα μετά τον παγερό σίφουνα που είναι το The People in the Trees):

Howard: In your case of course, the two novels we’ve worked on together came in as complete manuscripts and by and large the published versions of The People in the Trees and A Little Life do not differ. As you know, I initially found A Little Life so challenging and upsetting and long that I had to work my way through to appreciating it. It arrived on my desk at a time when my wife was going through a difficult health crisis and my soul was raw and troubled, and if ever a book was devised to trouble a soul, it is A Little Life. But the power of the thing was so undeniable that walking away from it was not something I could easily contemplate.

Yanagihara: What was the most challenging part of working on this book for you?

Howard: My first editorial concern with A Little Life was with its length, and my initial opinion was that it would be a better and/or more salable book if 100 or even 200 pages could go. But when I sat down with my pen in hand to edit it, I found that in fact the book justifies its length. So much happens to your four college friends who are the principal characters over such a long span of time that the book gains richness and amplitude as it accrues. (My private little descriptive tag for the book is “miserabilist epic.”) So I was wrong about that. Where you and I parted company was at the places where I felt that too much suffering was being piled onto your main character Jude, the orphan with the baroquely bad backstory, and also at times onto subsidiary characters.

Yanagihara: Now that I look back on it, I can see that most of your notes were of a fairly minor nature. At the time of their receipt, however, they felt insurmountable, epic, and assaultive. Part of this was their sheer physical manifestation: a 1,000-plus-page manuscript made literally shaggy with Post-it notes. I had to leave it under the bed for two weeks until I was ready to face it. Another thing I remember, keenly, is your admission that your first read took place during a very difficult period, when your wife was suffering a series of health problems—which makes it all the more remarkable that, even through many, many, many disagreements on all matter of things, I always knew you loved this book, and would always fight for its place and right to exist.

[Εξτραδάκι: Nine Tips for Finishing That Novel]

yanagih

Getting out of it as an exorcism

28book "The People in the Trees" by Hanya Yanagihara.

For a book to take you nearly 20 years to write, there has to be some sort of central, driving force to keep you going. What was it for you?
I grew up knowing about Daniel Carleton Gajdusek, the doctor upon whom Norton is based. He was one of these larger than life figures who was always hovering over my childhood. My father is a research doctor and he was fascinated by Carleton so I always knew his story, and I always thought he was far too good of a character to squander to time. So there was that: there was feeling an ownership of the character and always knowing that I would have to say something about him. And the other thing is, these are themes—colonialism, moral relativism—that really occupy my life. There comes a point when you’re writing a novel when you’re in it so deep that the life of the novel becomes more real to you than life itself. You have to write your way out of it; once you’re there, it’s too late to abandon. It may take you 18 years or 20 years or 30 years. You hope you enter as an immersion, and after a certain point, it becomes getting out of it as an exorcism, if that makes sense. If you’re lucky, that’s what happens.