A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara - This book. This book. It was shortlisted for the 2015 Man Booker. The book follows the lives of four friends who meet at a small liberal arts college and then move to New York City. An actor, an artist, an architect, and a lawyer, they all struggle through their twenties, but gain money, success, fame later in their careers and lives. The true protagonist of the story is Jude, the lawyer. His backstory is weaved throughout the book, slowly giving the reader hints as to the horrific abuses that he experienced as a child and explaining his behavior as an adult. This book is long, it is dense, it is incredibly graphic (the scenes of Jude's abuse are brutal), it is depressing, and it is truly haunting. I thought about A Little Life for weeks after finishing it, which is not something that I often do.
Summerlong by Dean Bakopoulos - Summerlong reminded me of John Cheever's The Swimmer, so that should be a sign that I liked it. Clare and Don have been married for years, but one hot summer night, they each leave their house - her on a run, him on a walk - and end up spending the night with other people. Young, beautiful people. As the summer continues, Don and Clare explore these new relationships, all while balancing their marriage, impending financial collapse, and parenting. The foursome oddly works, attending parties together and playing with Clare & Don's children, even vacationing together. Lines are drawn in the sand and then crossed. I loved this book, loved the characters, loved the ending. You don't often see women who are able to abandon their lives like Clare does.
Relief Map by Rosalie Knecht - Livy and Nelson are best friends, sixteen-year-olds living in a dead town in rural Pennsylvania waiting for their lives to begin. Suddenly, the town is essentially quarantined, locked down while the police and even the FBI are on a manhunt. Who are they looking for? A Georgian man, hiding in the woods. As the manhunt drags on for days, the town begins to slowly implode. Tensions run high, people become irritated and even violent. This is a well-written and interesting debut. I'll be looking out for more from Rosalie Knecht.
The Group by Mary McCarthy - The Group was published in 1963 and for the life of me, I can't remember where I hear about it. Like A Little Life, it follows a group of college friends after they graduate. In this case, it is eight women from Vassar. It opens at Kay's wedding and we quickly see each woman's reaction to one of their own marrying immediately after school and to someone they don't quite approve of. The rest of the novel follows the group, some of them settling down in New York, others traipsing around Europe, some who begin careers, others who are looking for love. They all come together again when one of them dies tragically. I was shocked by some of the discussions and behavior as this was set in between the World Wars. Some of the talk of birth control and sex was incredibly frank. It's an interesting look at the period through the eyes of young women.