Thursday 20 July 2017

Excerpts from A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

Excerpts from A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara:

“A  career mikva,” said Jude, smiling, when he told him this. “A free-market douche,” he countered. “An ambition enema.” “Ooh, that’s good!” But sometimes the parties — like tonight’s — had the opposite effect. Sometimes he found himself resenting the others’ definition of him, the reductiveness and immovability of it: he was, and forever would be, Willem Ragnarsson of Hood Hall, Suite Eight, someone bad at math and good with girls, an identity both simple and understandable, his persona drawn in two quick brushstrokes. They weren’t wrong, necessarily — there was something depressing about being in an industry in which he was considered an intellectual simply because he didn’t read certain magazines and websites and because he had gone to the college he had — but it made his life, which he knew was small anyway, feel smaller still. And sometimes he sensed in his former peers’ ignorance of his career something stubborn and willful and begrudging; last year, when his first truly big studio film had been released, he had been at a party in Red Hook and had been talking to a Hood hanger-on who was always at these gatherings, a man named Arthur who’d lived in the loser house, Dillingham Hall, and who now published an obscure but respected journal about digital cartography. “So, Willem, what’ve you been doing lately?” Arthur asked, finally, after talking for ten minutes about the most recent issue of The  Histories, which had featured a three-dimensional rendering of the Indochinese opium route from eighteen thirty-nine through eighteen forty-two.

He experienced, then, that moment of disorientation he occasionally had at these gatherings. Sometimes that very question was asked in a jokey, ironic way, as a congratulations, and he would smile and play along — “Oh, not much, still waiting at Ortolan. We’re doing a great sablefish with tobiko these days” — but sometimes, people genuinely didn’t know. The genuine not-knowing happened less and less frequently these days, and when it did, it was usually from someone who lived so far off the cultural grid that even the reading of The New York Times was treated as a seditious act or, more often, someone who was trying to communicate their disapproval — no, their dismissal — of him and his life and work by remaining determinedly ignorant of it. He didn’t know Arthur well enough to know into which category he fell (although he knew him well enough to not like him, the way he pressed so close into his space that he had literally backed into a wall), so he answered simply. “I’m acting.”
“Really,” said Arthur, blandly. “Anything I’d’ve heard of?”

This question — not the question itself, but Arthur’s tone, its care­lessness and derision — irritated him anew, but he didn’t show it. “Well,” he said slowly, “they’re mostly indies. I did something last year called The Kingdom of Frankincense, and I’m leaving next month to shoot The Unvanquished, based on the novel?” Arthur looked blank. Willem sighed; he had won an award for The Kingdom of Frankincense. “And something I shot a couple of years ago’s just been released: this thing called Black Mercury 3081.”

“Sounds interesting,” said Arthur, looking bored. “I don’t think I’ve heard of it, though. Huh. I’ll have to look it up. Well, good for you, Willem.”

He hated the way certain people said “good for you, Willem,” as if his job were some sort of spun-sugar fantasy, a fiction he fed himself and others, and not something that actually existed. He especially hated it that night, when not fifty yards away, framed clearly in the window just behind Arthur’s head, happened to be a spotlit billboard mounted atop a building with his face on it — his scowling face, admittedly: he was, after all, fighting off an enormous mauve computer-generated alien — and black mercury 3081: coming soon in two-foot-high letters. In those moments, he would be disappointed in the Hoodies. They’re no better than anyone else after all, he would realise. In the end, they’re jealous and trying to make me feel bad. And I’m stupid, because I do feel bad. Later, he would be irritated with himself: This is what you wanted, he would remind himself. So why do you care what other people think? But acting was caring what other people thought (sometimes it felt like that was all it was), and as much as he liked to think himself immune to other people’s opinions — as if he was somehow above worrying about them — he clearly wasn’t.

“I know it sounds so fucking petty,” he told Jude after that party. He was embarrassed by how annoyed he was — he wouldn’t have admitted it to anyone else.

“It doesn’t sound petty at all,” Jude had said. They were driving back to the city from Red Hook. “But Arthur’s a jerk, Willem. He always has been. And years of studying Herodotus hasn’t made him any less of one.”
He smiled, reluctantly. “I don’t know,” he said. “Sometimes I feel there’s something so… so pointless about what I do.”
“How can you say that, Willem? You’re an amazing actor; you really are. And you —”
“Don’t say I bring joy to so many people.”
“Actually, I wasn’t going to say that. Your films aren’t really the sorts of things that bring joy to anyone.” (Willem had come to specialise in playing dark and complicated characters — often quietly violent, usu­ally morally compromised —that inspired different degrees of sympathy. “Ragnarsson the Terrible,” Harold called him.)
“Except aliens, of course.”
“Right, except aliens. Although not even them — you kill them all in the end, don’t you? But Willem, I love watching them, and so do so many other people. That’s got to count for something, right? How many people get to say that, that they can actually remove someone from his daily life?” And when he didn’t answer: “You know, maybe we should stop going to these parties; they’re becoming unhealthy exer­cises in masochism and self-loathing for us both.” Jude turned to him and grinned. “At least you’re in the arts. I might as well be working for an arms dealer. Dorothy Wharton asked me tonight how it felt waking up each morning knowing I’d sacrificed yet another piece of my soul the day before.”
Finally, he laughed. “No, she didn’t.”
“Yes, she did. It was like having a conversation with Harold.”
“Yeah, if Harold was a white woman with dreadlocks.”
Jude smiled. “As I said, like having a conversation with Harold.”

(Source: The Punch Magazine)

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