#4: This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz
I’m not going to condescend here – you’ve no doubt heard of Mr. Junot Diaz by this point. Fun facts: born in the Dominican Republic, he emigrated to New Jersey when he was a kid. His first novel – The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao – was awarded the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the National Book Critics Circle Award. He’s won a MacArthur Genius Grant. And both a PEN/O. Henry and a PEN/Malamud Award. And a Guggenheim Fellowship. And he teaches creative writing at MIT. His newest book, his third, This Is How You Lose Her, is a New York Times Notable book, a finalist for the National Book Award, and now, #4 on the Catapult Notable list.
In this collection of short stories – that effectively functions and reads like a complete novel – Diaz expounds on the tragedy of love, relationships, and all the inherent failures within, all through the eyes of his cheating, flawed, rough-hewn, Dominican narrator Yunior. Truthful, brilliant, vibrant, and sad, these linked short vignettes trace Yunior’s life through his relationships with women – girlfriends, his mother, his dying brother’s girl – and how he so badly screws them all up, mostly though infidelity and pig-headedness. “I’m not a bad guy,” he begins on page one. Ri-i-i-i-ight.
I know how that sounds – defensive, unscrupulous – but it’s true. I’m like everybody else: weak, full of mistakes, but basically good. Magdalena disagrees though. She considers me a typical Dominican man: a sucio, an asshole. See, many months ago, when Magda was still my girl, when I didn’t have to be careful about almost anything, I cheated on her with this chick who had tons of eighties freestyle hair. Didn’t tell Magda about it, either. You know how it is. A smelly bone like that, better off buried in the backyard of your life.
Oh, Yunior. Idiot. Yet, even though he is that self-proclaimed “sucio,” you can’t help but pull for him, willing him to change his stripes, even though you know, definitively, he never will. Not until he himself is utterly broken by the decisions he makes. For full effect, check Diaz reading aloud from the last story in the book, The Cheater’s Guide to Love on The Dinner Party:
Diaz is most definitely becoming the voice of a generation – his is the face of America in this new century and his voice is our voice. He’s one of those rare birds that I can read and read and read and never get sick of – I could read 10,000 stories about Yunior, despite his being a complete asshole and reprobate most of the time. The lyrical, storyteller’s cadence of Diaz’s prose is enough to keep me going, wanting to hear more after every heartbreaking story ends. (I mean, they’re not completely heartbreaking – Diaz is exceptionally funny and Yunior deserves pretty much everything he gets.) You know there’s that old running debate over which contemporary writers and novels will stand the test of time – who will still be read and discussed by generations far down the line? I guarantee you that in 50 years, we’ll still be talking about the genius of Junot Diaz.