Book Club

Self Portrait with Boy


It’s been ages since I did a Book Club post, and while I’ve been reading regularly, there hasn’t been a book that has moved me until recently. Self Portrait with Boy is the debut novel by Rachel Lyon, and it isn’t a masterpiece by any means. The writing is good, maybe a bit disjointed, but it was the moral dilemma presented in the book that has been on my mind.

The story centers on Lu Rile, a struggling (in every sense of the word) artist in New York City, set sometime in the early 1990’s. She lives in an illegal loft populated by other artists and works three minimum wage jobs to support herself, and help her ailing father with his upcoming cataract surgery. Her medium is photography, and she is working on a daily self-portrait project on the day the novel opens.

She is at day #400, and as she is sitting in her loft, she notices the light coming in through the windows and the seagulls swirling outside. She sets up her tripod, undresses and practices jumping through the air aiming to time the shutter release at the precise moment she arcs in her jump. Finally, she is successful, and moments later hears a commotion in the stairwell as neighbors who were having a party on the top floor and their guests rush downstairs. She is oblivious and takes the stairs up to the roof, where she discovers that the young son of her neighbors had fallen to his death minutes earlier.

When she develops the slide, it is everything she thought it would be – beautifully composed, perfectly centered and balanced, but there is an image that she can’t identify in a corner that propels her to develop a print. That image is the boy falling, and it elevates the entire image to a masterpiece of composition; her jumping through the air at the perfect arc and the boy falling in juxtaposition to that jump. Both jumps, in opposite directions (for the record, it is never clear if the boy actually jumps or has tripped & fallen) are stunningly beautiful and equally haunting.

I’m not spoiling anything here, the gist of the novel is shared in many places, including the book jacket. What follows in the telling, which I won’t go into, is the moral dilemma she faces as she has to decide how to show this piece of work and the friendship that develops in the aftermath of the accident with the boys’ mother, and how that will be affected by her photograph. What escalates the dilemma is her internal struggle coupled with the extreme financial hardship she is dealing with, and that is what has stayed with me since the last page. The novel does have a tendency to drone on at times, and it certainly wasn’t a book that I couldn’t put down, but it did keep me engaged and provided an escape when I needed a little downtime – and that’s what I look for in novels. That, and a pretty cover ;)

A Little Life


This book. A novel hasn't moved me the way this one did in a long time. And it took me the good part of a month to read, but A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara is probably one of the best books I have ever read. When I initially started it, it was so slow I almost abandoned it. I’m so glad I was stubborn enough to keep going!

A Little Life follows four college roommates from a Boston college as they navigate life post-college in New York City. It chronicles their successes & failures, love, addiction, trauma & abuse. The book delves so deeply into the lives of one of the main characters that your heart will be broken over and over again. These four men develop the most amazing bond, and their loyalty to each other is so deep, that you will cheer their successes and weep with their defeats.

The character development is so good, and it is written so beautifully (and, at times, quite verbosely), that you will experience these lives so clearly and visually in your own mind, that they truly come to life. I had to put this book down so many times because I was moved to tears (real, sobbing tears!) and had to gather myself before I could continue.

I know I’m not describing the book in detail whatsoever, but that’s because I’m afraid once I start, I’ll give too much away. There are so many books out there about female friendships, but very few about strong bonds among men; this is that book. It will change the way you look at life, and love, friendships, self-worth and gratitude.

If you give it a go, I encourage you to not give up. The build is slow, and it was a good 200 pages before I felt invested. This is one book that will ruin you for a while. I finished it a week ago and am still thinking about it. I can’t even begin to consider my next book right now, it affected me so much!

A little bonus: after I finished, I was doing a little poking around on the title and came across a Instagram account for the book – inspired by places, scenes and moments in featured in the book. Complete marketing genius.

Go. Read it now.