It seems unjust that I saw Junot Diaz read before I’d actually read any of his works. Hey, I got halfway through The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao before the New York Public Library cut my efforts short. (The downside of an e-book: once the lending period is over, it’s over.)
Last week, I picked up Diaz’ latest, This Is How You Lose Her. Maybe it’s the format of the book, with it’s easily digested short stories punctuated by female monikers, announcing the central character of the next chapter. Or perhaps it’s just Diaz’ easy cadance. Either way, This Is How You Lose Her is addicting, and there’s not enough of it.
Throughout the book, we follow one character in particular: Yunior, a young boy with a player brother who’s diagnosed with cancer. We revisit Yunior over time, when he’s just a boy moving from the Dominican Republic to Old Bridge, NJ, to a tenured professor who loses the love of his life to his own cheating ways. Despite his flaws, he’s a likable character who portrays the ups and downs of love in the most familiar, and poetic, ways.
One of the most interesting chapters in the book was Otravida, Otravez, the only chapter written in a woman’s voice, Yasmin. Diaz has one of those styles that when you read it, you’re instantly jealous. What’s even worse is that he’s able to make a delicate shift into a tone that is distinctly feminine, without being obvious. This chapter reads entirely differently from the rest of the book, and I love it for that. It’s more subdued, less stream-of-consciousness, and more realistic.
I also love New Jersey, and essentially have a natural affiliation for all things from the Dirty Jerz. (Okay, there are few exceptions: Governor Chris Christie being the first that comes to mind.) And I’m a sucker for, well, pretty much everything. At one point in the book, Diaz talks about how “just south of the Oranges, the Parkway passes through a cemetery.” My great-great grandfather is buried in that cemetery, so reading this made New Jersey feel so entirely minuscule and, I’ll admit, I got a bit teary. Every state has its legends, its pride. The legendary New Jersey that I dream up in my head is made real when I see writers like Diaz describe home in the same gritty, cynical, and utterly romantic way that I think of it, like smoke stacks with blossoming flowers.
The best part of Diaz is his effortless poetry. (I’m sure it’s not effortless for him, but it reads that way.) Poetry readings are so boring, and that’s why they’ve got such a bad rap among most people. It’s the poetry that Diaz writes that makes the written word a medium that can literally touch and impact everyone.
…has a mouth like unswept glass – when you least expect it she cuts you.
You were at the age where you could fall in love with a girl over an expression, over a gesture.
So simply, he’s able to capture love, foolishness, pride, and anger. It’s insightful without feeling heavy, inspirational without trying.
Not only did I eat this book up faster than any other in the past 10 years, it also made me write. Last week, I spent the whole morning reading This Is How You Lose Her, and the rest of the day working on short stories. To me, that’s damn good writing.