Friday, October 12, 2012

Contemporary Fiction: This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz

The natural follow-up to last week's post on Junot Diaz's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, is his most current publication and National Book Award finalist, This Is How You Lose Her. Choosing this book was a very easy decision for me since I greatly admire Diaz's writing and have yet to meet anything he writes that I didn't like.

The Situation: Yunior is back. The main character in this book at least has the same name as the narrators of both Oscar Wao and Drown. But unlike Oscar Wao, and more like Drown, it is all about Yunior. With the exception of one chapter, the story follows Yunior around during different points in his life. From the time he is brought to the US by a father he barely knows, to his future of teaching at MIT, the reader is given an honest and often harsh look at how this man came to be who he is.

The Problem: Ultimately, who Yunior is happens to be a miserable Dominican who has messed up yet again by cheating on his girlfriend. This is how the story starts. And as Yunior starts talking about his life, his family, his upbringing, his friends, and his past relationships, it is clear that this isn't the first time this has happened to Yunior, and history says that it won't be his last. Like his brother, like his father, and apparently like many Dominican men, Yunior is a chronic cheater. And this time he has really messed up. He pines after this woman like he has no other, hoping against hope that he can get her back. And as he starts to look back on how it all happened. The acknowledgement that it isn't an isolated incident causes him to look at his entire life, and how exactly he got to this point.

Genre, Themes, History: Much like Drown, this is almost more of a collection of short stories than a novel. One of the stories, titled "Otravida, Otravez," doesn't even mention Yunior at all, but instead is about a woman carrying on an affair with a married man whose wife and kids are back in his home country of the Dominican Republic. The remaining stories deal with Yunior and his situation, but they do not appear in chronological order. The primary theme appears to be infidelity, and not just Yunior's. It is like an epidemic. Something that is also heavily explored is the trend of parents either leaving their home country and their children behind in order to start a new life in the US, or the parents remaining home and sending their children off to the US on their own. Most of the time the parents have every intention of having the rest of their family join them, but there are a few who have no desire to either go back or send for the others...and both men and women fall into this category. Then there are those who do have their families with them in the US, but they still have another partner in the home country, and sometimes a whole other family. Diaz presents the fractured family life of the Dominican immigrant trying to make it in the US - a country where, according to Diaz, even the devil got his ass kicked.

My Verdict: This book reminded me a great deal of Drown, mostly in its structure and its narrative voice. Although, the language is much rougher than it was in Drown, almost rougher that it was in Oscar Wao, and the subject matter is much tougher...some of it. Because of this, I have to once again say that I can't recommend anyone read this book unless they are ready for it. But chances are, if you get through Oscar Wao okay, then this one probably won't phase you at all. Now having given my obligatory warning, I will say that I have once again found a Diaz book that I love and hold in high regard. Maybe it is his unblinking honesty and willingness to put it all out there, I don't know, but I like it.

Favorite Moment: Pretty much any moment when Yunior truly regrets and has genuine remorse for how he has screwed this relationship up. It was he who cheated, and she just wasn't going to put up with it.

Favorite Character: This is slightly more difficult...this is one of those books where none of the characters really come off that great. The men are cheating, and many of the women let it happen and put up with it. It is a heartbreaking cycle that Diaz presents here.

Recommended Reading: Once again, I would have to recommend his book, Drown. This Is How You Lose Her almost picks up where Drown left sort of fills in some of the blanks and brings the reader up to speed. I highly recommend reading it before attempting anything else by Diaz. 

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