Sunday, September 23, 2012

Nat dishes on Diaz's This Is How You Lose Her

Enjoy this book review from guest blogger Natalie on mutual crush Junot Diaz's latest!

I read This Is How You Lose Her primarily on the bus to and fro work in constant state of vague worry that one of the older Latinas I frequently sit next to who so nicely (but very insistently) wave me over when the seat is free would look over, see some word that I don’t know the meaning of but can sort of discern the naughty gist of, and promptly hit me over the head with her well-stocked purse (that or I'd miss my stop). I seem to always be reading or watching the wrong thing in public—like the time I watched Somewhere on a laptop whilst flying cross country seated between two men, one distinctly and unquestionable skeevy.  I’ve never wanted one of those sweater things that at once encompasses your computer and head more than during that first stripper scene.

I first read Junot Diaz in grad school. Drown (1997) was assigned for an immigrant literature class and I approached the book without hoping for much. The original cover wasn’t super enticing, looking more like a poetry chapbook than something I wanted to read (all three of Diaz’s books have since been redesigned to match and be all snazzy and marketable and whatnot) and, shoot me if you must, but I’m not a short story kind of chick. But, that book won me over (so much that I asked the professor if I could change my major paper topic from whatever other book I’d chosen to Drown). That says a lot. I said I’m not a short story kind of chick blithely but I mean it; if you’re not Joyce or Salinger, I probably don’t like your short stories. Sorry. Fast forward *cough* years and I have a massive crush on Diaz’s work and the man himself. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2008) was nothing short of amazing. So, learning that Diaz was releasing a new book this year (on my birthday no less) only confirmed that I’d be visiting the local bookstore as soon as I was released from the confines of work’s time clock.

The bookstore clerk commented that she’d sold a lot of copies of This Is How You Lose Her with the Domino magazine special edition “Best Rooms” that I’d also picked up (she did not comment how many people also bought a Japanese blind box—which seemed the more probable combo to me given the considerable level of geekiness we’re talking about in Diaz’s work, especially Oscar Wao) which leads me to believe that Diaz has many a fan girl (who apparently also like interior design).

But, what about the book itself? After such a powerhouse of a giant novel, I was disappointed that the third book is short stories. That said, Diaz is a master of the short story and these are no exception.  Like Drown, these stories connect easily without being constrained by or reduced to their topic. They’re all linked by heartbreak, cheating, and the apparently general asshole quality of Dominican American men (not my assumption—I don’t think I know anyone Dominican although I easily could living in LA and I just don’t know). But they’re not linked by contrivances like so many collections. These stories seem to naturally go together though they’re not about the same characters yet they don’t feel stale although most feature the demise of a romantic relationship. The stories also build upon each other and weave in and out of each other in a way that makes the book feel more like a novel than short stories—there is little of the stop and start quality of a randomly assembled book of stories.

These stories retain Diaz’s tone, typical characters, and that wonderful use of language that engages and plunges you into the depths of the love and heartbreak of the characters, and simultaneously knocks you right back out of the lives of the characters onto your lily white (or whatever other non-Dominican-American colored) ass because you have no clue what that word is or how to use it in a sentence other than the one on the page in front of you, even if you do understand Spanish.

And, like any good relationship that simply ends, on good terms but an ending nonetheless, This Is How You Lose Her leaves your heartbroken on the last page, wishing there were more. I can only hope Diaz has another book in the works, meanwhile I’ll relish the author’s current media popularity (because dude is a seriously good interview).

1 comment:

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