that of Hanya Yanagihara In Paradise defies categorization.
Both a novel that reinvents the world three times, and a collection of barely interconnected novels about different people in some of the same places, the book deals with themes such as LGBTQ + relationships at different times and contexts, racism, pandemics. , loss, unrequited love, and family.
However, those things are all wrapped up in 720 pages of little detail, detail, and storytelling in tales that ultimately make the novel feel like a bit too much.
In Paradise contains three novels. The first is set in 1893 in an alternate America and follows David, a wealthy young man from a well-known family who lives in the shadow of his grandfather while dreaming of regaining freedom and forging his own path in the life. He struggles with an arranged marriage and falls in love with a mysterious pianist who lives in a dilapidated apartment – and considers whether or not to steal his fortune. The second novel is set in Manhattan in 1993, where a young paralegal tries to hide his past from his much older and very wealthy partner as the AIDS pandemic rages on. The latest novel – a somewhat dystopian tale where there is a totalitarian government and the world is in ruins due to various plagues – takes place at different times between 2088 and 2094, also in New York City, and follows the granddaughter of ‘a scientist as she learns to cope with the loss of her grandfather and tries to shed light on her husband’s disappearance.
There is a plethora of topics that Yanagihara returns to several times in these three accounts. Unrequited love, insecurity, relationship drama, secret pasts, and identity are just a few. She also revisits places like Washington Square and certain streets of Manhattan. In addition to the topics mentioned above, these places and some of the names she repeatedly uses give In Paradise a hint of cohesion. Most important of these, however, is LGBTQ + relationships. Especially in the first two stories, same-sex marriage is generally accepted, but there are places where it is frowned upon or even punished.
Likewise, there are various instances where racism comes across and is portrayed as something vile, but Yanagihara never delves into it and the criticisms are superficial. For example, there is a passage in the second story in which a homeless man yells a series of racial and anti-LGBTQ + slurs at the protagonist, but it is not followed by an exploration of his feelings about it.
Despite the elements of cohesion mentioned above, In Paradise is a rambling reading in which the narrative threads are abandoned never to be picked up again. For example, in the first story there are many pages devoted to the death of a young boy and how the tragedy affected the man David is supposed to marry. Then this story ends and we never learn about the boy’s family or the aftermath of his death. Additionally, the language used in this first story, which sets the tone for the rest of the book, is confusing as it changes from a modern sound and the use of “twenty-nine” to the use of “nine. and twenty years ”and words like“ flibbertigibbet. ” There are echoes that reverberate in every book, place, and situation that prompts readers to try to connect the dots and come up with an overarching idea encompassing the three stories, but this exercise will only lead to frustration as there will be many more questions than answers.
In Paradise operates at two levels, and they share equal weight. On the one hand, the book offers a series of alternate stories in which some of the issues we face today emerge and the characters struggle to find their true selves. In fact, the pandemics that appear in the novel make it one of the first great pandemic novels, although the pandemics and the diseases themselves do not play a major role in the novel. On the other hand, there is too much going on, but enough is being explored in depth. It’s a story of love against wealth, but also of inner demons, troubled pasts, grief, racism and too many other things to name.
In Paradise contains a staggering amount of characters, events, letters, and tales in tales that never merge into something that appears to be more than the sum of its parts. However, it also presents some interesting ideas, like that premarital sex is ‘encouraged’ or that things like anxiety and uncertainty are timeless parts of human nature. Yanagihara has crammed three centuries of imagination into this novel, and it is without a doubt a feat. She’s also managed to put human emotions at the center of every story, and that grants In Paradise emotional resonance. However, the onslaught of details and stories ultimately blurs the narrative in a way that injects a healthy dose of bewilderment and frustration into what could have been a great reading experience.
Gabino Iglesias is an author, literary critic, and teacher living in Austin, Texas. Find him on Twitter at @Gabino_Iglesias.