I never really considered the friendships of men when I was growing up. I mean, my dad had friends, and my little brother had friends, but they didn’t discuss things the way my mom and her friends–and me and my friends–discussed things. I just assumed that men had a bunch of acquaintances, and that those friendships weren’t very deep. Of course, when I was in high school, most of my friendships were incredibly deep and based on solid principles like ‘that cute boy over there,’ ‘our current project in social studies class,’ and ‘swimming.’
As I grew up and friendships evolved, I started to realize that most of my friendships never delved deeper than these first conversations, remaining on the surface of the mundane. There are always a few friendships that get deeper, but they are few and far between.
But I still figured guys — both men and boys — stayed away from anything like a deep friendship, keeping to the general ‘dude’ conversations over football. And then I got married, and realized that my husband had those inane conversations, but he had a couple of very important, very grounded friendships.
Actually, I realized this before marriage. His two friends, really good friends, are guys he grew up with. They’re good guys, and they share a history. He also has two younger brothers, and has good friendships with them, as well. The talk a lot (and text), delving into deeper conversations than I ever though possible between guys.
This has lead me to the conclusion that there isn’t much difference between male and female friendships; the only difference is how the evolve. Both sexes have these surface friendships, those that discuss music and weather and sports and hotties. Women more often than men also dish dirt (on other women, usually), it seems. Women can get louder, unless there are sports involved.
But both men and women, at least those that I know, have a more selective group that they really talk to; those with whom they share their secrets, that they really trust. It’s hard, the older you get, to find people who love you and won’t judge, and men need those as much as women. Maybe more than women.
I think all this means that I really didn’t understand much about men until I met one that I really loved. The good ones are deeper than the shallow ones, and I found a deep one (with a great sense of humor). Maybe I was only finding the shallow ones before, or maybe I wasn’t looking deep enough.
Reading this, I guess I was a reverse sexist. But I’ve seen my husband in his most vulnerable states, I heard him talking to his good friends, and I’ve seen him with his daughters. I’ve seen my friends’ husbands, and I’ve realized that there is more to the male species than I ever imagined growing up.
Or maybe I just wasn’t looking in the right places.
And now, male friendship in depth. Here’s A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara.
I read this book with quite a bit of trepidation. I’ve never read a book about a bunch of men that I liked; most just didn’t hit me on an emotional level. And a book about friendship needs to be emotional.
And, I can tell you, it changed me.
A Little Life starts as the story of four friends, just out of college (in New England) and living in New York, all working hard to make their marks. Malcolm is the rich boy architect of the group, caught between many different worlds, hoping he has the genius to make it. JB is the spoiled boy-child artist, raised by his immigrant mother (from Haiti) and his aunt, pretending to be poor while watching his mother work her way up to a graduate degree. And we have Willem, a classically handsome aspiring artist, the child of distant parents, immigrants from Sweden working as ranchers in Wyoming. And finally, Jude, the glue of the group, the young boy with a mysterious past.
Through the years, it is Jude who holds the group close, but its his secrets that keep him at arms length. His story is the a story of tragedy and horror, but also of hope and redemption. And, in the end, above all else, love.
This book was one of the best books I’ve ever read. I started it with a ‘meh’ attitude. But that changed quickly; I cared so much for all these men, and the people who became part of their lives. And Jude, oh Jude. Everyone wanted to take care of him, to protect him and cultivate his brilliant mind. But he wouldn’t let them into the the darkest parts of his soul.
I understand Jude a bit; I, too, am a keeper of secrets. It’s hard to let the things we hold so close out, even to those we love and trust. I never want to burden people with my burdens, which are nothing compared to Jude’s (and really are nothing, and I believe that most everyone has things that they hold close).
For about the last fourth of the book, I cried. For the story, but also for the love of Yanagihara’s characters and the beauty of his words.
Stories like this one make me hold my husband tighter and pull my friends closer. It is so wonderful written, intricate without bogging the reader in detail, telling the story with grace and beauty, but also very masculine and male (without being a testosterone fest). I will be suggesting this one for years.
And, one of the most amazing things is that Hanya Yanagihara is a female. She understands and explained male bonding and friendships better than anyone else I’ve ever read.
Five stars. This is where words become art.