18 Quotes From 'A Little Life' That Just Get You

by Ilana Masad

One of the best things about Hanya Yanagihara's new book, A Little Life — which you need to read immediately — is how incredibly universal it is. The novel is about four guys who've known each other since college. They're all super-ambitious: Malcolm wants to be an architect, JB wants to be an artist, Willem wants to be an actor, and Jude wants to be a lawyer. They start small and slow, working low-paying jobs and trying to earn another degree or get that one audition or please their boss enough to get a better assignment.

We've all been there. Whether you're trying to climb a corporate ladder or make it as an artist, you know the struggle involved in those itsy-bitsy steps that feel more like walking in place than moving upward. But it's not just work. These guys confront everything as they grow up: family, love, friendships, the pressures of adulthood. In other words, LIFE, in all its glorious messiness.

As I was reading I kept having the urge to underline things and write OMG SO TRUE in the margins. Or I FEEL THAT. Or even THIS MAKES ME WANT TO CRY. So, if you need another reason to read this amazing book, here are some of the most powerful and awesome quotes that can be found in these pages. You'll see yourself in these. Trust me. And if you end up printing out one of these and hanging it by your desk, I'll resist the urge to say "I told you so."

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On Family

  • "I'm lucky, he'd think, and then, because he was competitive and kept track of where he stood against his peers in every aspect of his life, I'm the luckiest one of all. But he never thought that he didn't deserve it, to that he should work harder to express his appreciation. His family was happy when he was happy, and so his only obligation to them was to be happy, to live exactly the life he wanted, on the terms he wanted."
  • "[H]e would grow irritated that he spent so much time thinking about his parents at all. Was this normal?"
  • "Wasn't there something just a pathetic about it? He was twenty-seven, after all! Was this what happened when you lived at home? Or was it just him? Surely this was the best possible argument for moving out: so he'd somehow cease to be such a child."
  • "He feels wonderful, like a different person: whole and healthy and calm. He is someone's son, and at times the knowledge of that is so overwhelming that he imagines it is manifesting itself physically, as if it's been written in something shining and gold across his chest."

On Being Alone

  • "[H]e would sometimes stand, barefoot, in the kitchen, everything quiet around him, and the small, ugly apartment would feel like a sort of marvel. Here, time was his, and space was his, and every door could be shut, every window locked."
  • "Sometimes he wonders whether this very idea of loneliness is something he would feel at all had he not been awakened to the fact that he should be feeling lonely..."
  • "He is so lonely that he sometimes feels it physically, a sodden clump of dirty laundry pressing against his chest."

On Adulting

  • "[D]espite his friends' anxieties, he knew he would love being thirty, for the very reason that they hated it: because it was an age of undeniable adulthood. (He looked forward to being thirty-five, when he would be able to say he had been an adult for more than twice as long as he had been a child.)"
  • "The thing he hadn't realized about success was that success made people boring. Failure also made people boring, but in a different way failing people were constantly striving for one thing — success. But successful people were also only striving to maintain their success. It was the different between running and running in place, and although running was boring no matter what, at least the person running was moving..."

On Being An Artist

  • "[H]e would emerge from the fog of his painting and sense that all of them were breathing in rhythm, panting almost from the effort of concentrating. He could feel then, then, the collective energy they were expending filling the air like gas, flammable and sweet, and would wish he could bottle it so that he might be able to draw from it when he was feeling uninspired..."
  • "When did pursuing your ambitions cross the line from brave into foolhardy? How did you know when to stop? In earlier, more rigid, less encouraging (and ultimately, more helpful) decades, things would be much clearer: you would stop when you turned forty, or when you got married, or when you had kids, or after five years, or ten years, or fifteen. And then you would go get a real job, and acting and your dreams for a career in it would recede into the thick of the evening, a melting into history as quiet as a briquette of ice sliding into a warm bath."
  • "But these were the days of self-fulfillment, where settling for something that was not quite your first choice of a life seemed weak-willed and ignoble. Somewhere, surrendering to what seemed to be your fate had changed from being dignified to being a sign of your own cowardice."

On Love

  • "Both of them were uncertain; both of them were trying as much as they could; both of them would doubt themselves, would progress and recede. But they would both keep trying, because they trusted the other, and because the other person was the only other person who ever be worth such hardships, such difficulties, such insecurities and exposure."
  • "Wasn't this what he had wanted ... from this relationship? To be so indispensable to another person that that person couldn't even comprehend his life without him? And now he had it, and the demands of the position terrified him. He had asked for responsibility without understanding completely how much damage he could do."
  • "[T]here is the person you came back to: his face and body and voice and scent and touch, his way of waiting until you finish whatever you're saying, no matter how lengthy, before he speaks, the way his smile moves so slowly across his face that it reminds you of a moonrise, how clearly he has missed you and how clearly happy he is to have you back."

On Life

  • "If you love home — and even if you don't — there is nothing quite as cozy, as comfortable, as delightful, as that first week back. That week, even the things that would irritate you — the alarm waahing from some car at three in the morning; the pigeons who come to clutter and click on the windowsill behind your bed when you're trying to sleep in — seem instead reminders of your own permanence, of how life, your life, will always graciously allow you to step back inside it, no matter how far you have gone away from it or how long you have left it."
  • "You pounce upon the happy moments, you hold them up as proof — even though that one moment cannot compensate for all the other moments, the majority of moments. See? This is why it's worth living. This is why I've been making him try."
  • "[L]ife compensated for its losses, and he would realize the truth of that, although sometimes it would seem like life had not just compensated for itself but had done so extravagantly, as if his very life was begging him to forgive it, as if it were piling riches upon him, smothering him in all things beautiful and wonderful and hoped-for so he wouldn't resent it, so he would allow it to keep moving forward."

Images: Meredith Turits; Giphy (5)