Last September, I finally read The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. I had been beating around the bush for months, maybe years, and after going to a Junot Díaz reading and talk-back, I finally plunged into the book. The novel blew me away and quickly became one of my favorites. If you haven’t read it, stop reading this immediately and get yourself a copy of Oscar Wao!
Díaz’ latest book, This is How You Lose Her, while not quite up to the level of Oscar Wao, is almost as compelling a read as his masterwork. I loved reading the different short stories and I even managed to get Kayla to read a few of them. This is How You Lose Her consists of 9 stories that feature Yunior, of Drown and Oscar Wao fame, at the center. I love Yunior. Everyone I know who has read the books loves Yunior. If anything, this collection humanizes him even further. Even though he is a world-class Dominican-American macho male, these stories show us that he just wants to be loved regardless of his “stud” persona. The reader sees the ways in which Yunior is able to love and be loved while demonstrating the effects of his relationships on his unwavering masculinity.
Yunior may come off as a typical macho Dominican male, but he is more than that. While all of the men in his life are serial cheaters and the collection’s most prominent male influence, Rafa, is abusive to women, Yunior does not exactly follow down this path. Even though he frequently messes up, cheats, and loses the girl, he doesn’t particularly seem to learn anything. Nevertheless, I interpret the work itself as his recognition of his failures and the poor decisions he has made in his life. The last story, “The Cheater’s Guide to Love,” presents Yunior years later. After being rightfully dumped by his fiancée due to his typically womanizing ways, he seems to finally learn from his mistakes. He becomes depresses and must fall into the abyss before he can finally emerge a wiser and better person, one that does not repeat the mistakes of his youth. Essentially, the stories are as much about failure as they are about growth. Yunior cannot truly grow and become a better person until he experiences failure. True, he frequently makes the same errors and typically credits them to his being a Dominican male, but the repetitive nature of his mistakes forces him to see them for what they are. They aren’t a reflection of his Dominicanness or his maleness; they are a result of who he is. Yunior is an addict, thus explaining the repetitiveness of his mistakes. I see the collection as a sort of rehab in which he must “come clean” about who he truly is in order to move on and make amends with his past.
Even though I generally want to dislike Yunior due his typical machismo behavior, I genuinely like the character. I think I owe this to Díaz’ style of writing. His writing is real to me. He effortless intertwines different languages, dialects, linguistic registers, and even sci-fi and pop culture tidbits. I’m always wanting to read more. And perhaps no other contemporary writer makes me want to write myself more than Junot Díaz. His writing makes me want to drop out of school, take some creative writing workshops, go to Agora, and make magic happen.