This week’s book talk is dedicated to New York Times Bestseller This is How You Lose Her. Latino author Junot Diaz describes his work as “neither a novel nor a short story collection.” In truth, it’s somewhere in between and I think the unusual structure is all to its advantage.
Diaz, who won a Pulitzer for The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, is widely recognized as the voice of the American immigrant. An immigrant himself, he came to America from the Dominican Republic. He draws on this experience in his writing, weaving together street talk and literary flare in a series of stories that focus on the plight of Yunior, a Latino whose recurring infidelity results in heartache for everyone involved. In a larger sense, though, the book speaks to the issue of men and their self destructive, maddening quest for the intimacy that both calls to them and scares them to death. In the periphery, there are the ever present social issues that plague the immigrant Latino culture: housing discrimination, unemployment, poverty, and the struggle to find their place in America.
This is How You Lose Her may be literary, but it is very comfortable read. The language is direct and honest. Reviewers have dubbed his language “Spanglish” because of his frequent lapses into Spanish. But Diaz is clearly a master of the vernacular; he can speak in the voice of the academic scholar and in the voice of the drug culture with equal skill. His lapses into Spanish are reflective of the thought process of bilingual immigrants, but they required me to continually text my daughter in Ecuador for translation. Since Diaz makes avid use of every four letter word in both languages, my daughter finally asked “What are you reading?”
But besides that little language glitch, the book is eminently readable. I found it fast paced and energetic. I liked that each “chapter” was really a self contained story. It was easy to read one story, put it down, and return to the next later.
Many have commented on the humor in this book, but for me its most compelling aspect was the central character. Yunior is a man who is always trying to get back what he gave away. He appears in most stories, making the same mistakes over and over. Sometimes, he likes to lay the blame of his chronic infidelity on his Dominican roots, but in the end, he faces his own flaws with raw and poignant honesty.
He is a character who tears at you because, after all, he betrays every woman who loves him. In every story, I wanted to slap the bejesus out of him. I kept thinking “Again? He did it again?”
Frailty, thy name is Yunior!
But, it takes a clever author to make you love a man for whom betrayal is a given. Each time Yunior screws up, Diaz details his grief and isolation so completely, so poignantly that the reader cannot help but feel empathy for Yunior.
This is because Diaz writes with great insight on the frailty of the male who both longs for and fears intimacy. I feel like I should hate Yunior, but I don’t.
Instead, I hope he finds what he’s looking for in the next book (along with the courage to keep it).
On a separate note, Diaz serves on the Board of Advisors for Freedom University, an institution providing post secondary education to undocumented immigrants. Check out his good natured interview on Colbert Nation in which Diaz discusses The Freedom University Project. Too funny…
Featured Image: http://www.dispatch.com/content/graphics/2012/12/02/2-top-shelf02-art-go1ket59-1this-is-how.jpg