I'm Sorry

Thad McIlroy

In Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life (Doubleday) the main character Jude says “I’m sorry” over 100 times. And he adds in “I’m so sorry” 30 times. You can’t help thinking that other people should rather be apologizing to Jude, including the mother who abandoned him on a door stoop; the multiple priests who abused him physically and sexually in the monastery where he lands; the priest who becomes his pimp; the doctor who runs him over on purpose; and his first boyfriend, who throws them down the stairs, in his wheelchair. All of this leads Jude to regularly cut himself on the arms and legs with razor blades he keeps stashed under the bathroom sink. This is described with great gusto by Yanagihara, as in this passage: “He had begun a new method of balancing the edge of the blade on his skin and then pressing down, as deep as he could, so that when he withdrew the razor—stuck like an ax head into a tree stump—there was half a second in which he could pull apart the two sides of flesh and see only a clean white gouge, like a side of fatted bacon, before the blood began rushing in to pool within the cut.” Despite all of the horror, Jude somehow becomes one of the most powerful, well-paid lawyers in Manhattan, lands a gorgeous boyfriend who is one of Hollywood’s leading stars, and in a gesture of love is adopted as an adult by his saintly law professor. Still, Jude can’t stop apologizing. A Little Life is a painful, pain-filled book. By the end of it you’ll feel that you have suffered a lifetime of abuse as well, or at least for the twenty or so hours it takes you to struggle through its 720 pages. The book became a bestseller in late 2015, receiving rapturous reviews from the New Yorker and many others. It was also described as “tedious” by the New York Review of Books, the writing “atrocious.” The Millions calls it “bungling,” “overwrought” and “sterile.” I just can’t recommend this book. I’m sorry.

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Thad McIlroy

Thad McIlroy is an electronic publishing analyst and consultant, and author of more than two hundred articles and several books on the subject. He lives in Vancouver and at


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