Tuesday, December 4, 2012

"This Is How You Lose Her" by Junot Diaz

I adored The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. It was such a unique book, with a strong voice in Yunior and such deeply felt characterization. Though I read the book a number of years ago (before I began this blog), it's remained a favorite. So I was excited to read Diaz's newest book--This Is How You Lose Her, a collection of short stories primarily centered around the same Yunior--as I hoped it would help break me out of my reading funk.

There were definitely things I liked about the book. Yunior's voice is still there, a combination of America and the Dominican Republic, educated phrases and cultural slang. There are complicated relationships, most interestingly between Yunior and his mother and brother, even though each story is about a girl. And the last story, "A Cheater's Guide to Love," written in the second person (something that shouldn't work but that is so effective here) is outstanding, reminiscent of what made Oscar Wao so powerful.

Yet the rest of the book felt somewhat flat to me. Perhaps because the collection covers Yunior's relationships with so many girls, it becomes harder to empathize, to see him as other than the scumbag all the former girlfriends claim him to be. The recurring motif is, of course, cheating, as Yunior cheats on every single relationship he has, both the relationships he cares about and those he doesn't. He says he has real feelings for some of the women, but it's hard to see all the parading girlfriends as more than flesh in his eyes, and his constant melancholy seems undeserved.

I can see the book as a statement on masculinity, on the simultaneous desire for sex and love without the willingness to make sacrifices for either. For Yunior is, in the end, a coward, despite all his excuses. And yet that theme didn't come through as clearly as I would have liked.

This Is How You Lose Her lacks the scope, humor, and pathos of Oscar Wao, which doesn't make it a bad book, but nonetheless a disappointment in comparison.

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