A Review: "This is How You Lose Her" by Junot Diaz
She started off my voyage into Diaz with the Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. I was then assigned, Drown by another professor and the cycle would continue by following Diaz's short stories in the New Yorker. I loved Diaz because he was the only writer I had know to speak about parts of New Jersey that very few people frequent. He mentions Perth Amboy, Sayerville, and Old Bridge like they are just as meaningful as urban New York City. His Caribbean characters share the same island as my grandparents and Spanglish never seemed so damn intriguing until I had picked up one of his books.
The most recent gift to the world from Diaz, This is How You Lose Her, was purchased the minute it hit shelves. I even set my phone to alarm at 6am just in case I dared to forget. I finished the set of connected short stories in about 3 days, and I made myself put it down so that I wouldn't rush through it. As I turned the last page my heart sank as I wished for more.
The story opens up with a Yunior, the soul searching character that has been in most of Diaz's stories. Yunior blatantly tells the reader; “I’m not a bad guy. I know how that sounds — defensive, unscrupulous — but it’s true. I’m like everybody else: weak, full of mistakes, but basically good." Throughout the stories we follow Yunior as he loses his beloved amor to infidelity, strives to earn back her love, falls in love again, breaks another heart, and manages to sleep with each woman he encounters. This may paint him as a "bad guy", but he's just a mirror for all of us. At a young age, Yunior traveled with his father as he visited other women. He peered in as his brother slept with various women, and became helpless as his mother continually loved his father and brother no matter what.
Diaz also tells the story of another hard working Dominican woman that loves an emotionally vacant man. Her lover has a family in the Dominican Republic, which seems to be a reoccurring theme that each Dominican man the reader encounters manages to sidestep. Gender differentials are strong throughout every story that Diaz puts on paper. Although he has seen first hand the hurt that comes from cheating, he seems to always commit the same love crime.
Physical pain and disease seem to be something that Diaz pairs with emotional hurt. We are introduced to Rafa again, the hyper-masculine brother of Yunior with more machismo than the whole island of the Dominican Republic. He rarely utters any words of warmth, and usually only feels with his penis. Almost out of nowhere he begins feeling body pains that are caused by cancer. His mother does all that she can to calm her son, but Rafa does not yield to the disease by becoming any less hard-headed. Eventually, Rafa passes away and Yunior never really deals with the loss.
In the final chapter/story of This is How You Lose Her, Yunior begins to have tingling sensation in his limbs soon after losing his fiance. He visits a doctor and is diagnosed with a spinal disorder that can either dissipate on its own or with surgery. His emotional pain begins to takeover his body. Just like Diaz's words can takeover the mind...
The novela is comprised of familiar characters that move in familiar spaces. I praise Diaz for never allowing his Dominican characters to forget the African roots within each one of them. I've come across far too many Dominicans that would spit at that truth. His characters are rich and three dimensional with no limit on vulgarity, which is as East Coast as you can get.
I'll just sit back and wait for the next one...