Summary: Four boys meet in college: Jude, Malcom, JB and Willem. They become the best of friends, and we get to watch their lives unfold as the years pass. The primary focus is on Jude who suffered an unfathomably tragic childhood, one that he does his best to hide from his friends, one he tries to hide from himself, to whatever degree possible. But his is a past that left marks on his body, as well as his soul, and he simply cannot escape it. Instead he must try to live with it in the best way that he can.
Review: Where do I even begin? I feel like I’ve read a lot of amazing books this year, but this…I struggle to find the right words. This is an emotionally difficult book to read. If you have any kind of history of abuse or simply don’t have the heart or stomach for that kind of storyline…I warn you to tread lightly. The subject matter is handled in such a way that you feel the devastation, but it isn’t graphic. It is handled respectfully, but not lightly. In truth, the quality of the writing is such that there is no need for explicit details. The tone of it, the feelings of the characters are so vivid, that elaboration isn’t called for.
And I don’t mean to give the impression that abuse is all the book is about. It isn’t about that as much as the after, and how the before affects the after, how people can be broken and still love and be loved. How the greatest love of our life may not come in the form we expected and that we may have to make compromises, huge compromises, to keep it, but it’s worth it. It’s about how we sacrifice for each other, how love can be all encompassing, how our past experiences influence our future, sometimes in devastating, but often in unexpected ways.
And aside from the abuse, there is so much love. So much patience and kindness and tenderness and forgiveness and it’s all so very raw and heartbreaking. The beauty of the relationships, the gorgeous humanity of it all makes the tragic bits bearable. Barely so, but still.
It feels strange to call a book full of so much tragedy beautiful, but I lack a better word. This is a rather hefty tome, yet I finished it in only a few days. And in the moments when I wasn’t reading it, I was thinking about them. Not the book. The characters. Because I loved them and ached for them and wanted for them. And I imagine I’ll be thinking of them, and this book, for years to come.
As for the writing itself, it was magnificent. I was lost in the story within a few pages. I ached so much for Jude and for Willem and Harold. I hurt for them. I hurt with them. And in the end, I felt I had a real sense of their experiences, of their lives, of their pain. It has been years since I have read a book this compelling, this exquisitely painful and raw and human. It is the greatest kind of book.