Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Book Review: "This Is How You Lose Her" by Junot Diaz

Junot Diaz was a well-regarded young writer of short stories when his first novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, exploded on the scene a few years ago, winning the Pulitzer Prize. While I had trouble getting into that book (mainly because I'm not a big fan of books with copious footnotes, to be honest), I love Diaz's voice and his ability to create truly memorable characters.

This Is How You Lose Her is a story collection about relationships—romantic ones, sexual ones, familial ones, even cultural ones. Yunior, the irrepressible character who appeared in stories in Diaz's fist story collection, Drown, and went on to narrate The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, is the narrator of all but one of the stories in this collection. The stories feature Yunior at different ages and stages in his life, in and out of relationships with various women. Yunior is an unabashed charmer who loves sex and loves the attraction of different women, but isn't too enamored of having to work for relationships or staying around as they go sour.

Some stories feature Yunior as a younger boy, shaped by his fractious relationship with his father, who eventually leaves the family, and his older brother, Rafa. (Many of the female characters in the stories say that Dominican men are routinely unfaithful to their women, but Yunior's mother said that his father, brother, and him are even more so.) At times you can see why Yunior is so irresistible, and at times you see why the women in his life never want to see him again, or worse, want to hurt him (physically and emotionally).

My favorite story in the collection is the closing one, "The Cheater's Guide to Love," which follows an older Yunior through a particular rough patch in his life. (It also contains my favorite line, "The half-life of love is forever.") "Otravida, Otravez" is a story narrated by a woman who runs a hospital laundry and is consumed with thoughts of her lover's wife back home in the Dominican Republic. And in "The Pura Principle," Yunior recounts one of the last relationships his brother had before he died, a relationship that nearly tore the family apart. Many of the other stories focus on one particular woman in Yunior's life at a particular time.

Diaz's stories are funny, tender, brash, and even emotional at times. Yunior is an absolutely terrific character whom Diaz has imbued with an incredible depth. My only criticism of the book is that Diaz liberally sprinkles the stories with Spanish and Dominican idioms, phrases, and words that I didn't know, and while for the most part, I could figure out their general meaning, it was a little jarring, kind of like when you're watching a movie and suddenly characters have a conversation in another language but you have no idea what they're saying, and subtitles aren't provided.

Beyond that, however, I found this to be a really enjoyable, engaging collection of stories which very well may convince me to revisit The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao now. I really look forward to Diaz's next book, to see if he continues to develop Yunior further.

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