Monday, June 15, 2015

Review: This is How You Lose Her - Junot Diaz

This is How You Lose Her
Junot Diaz
Series: N/A
Genre: Fiction, Short Stories, Contemporary, Adult Fiction
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Rarely is a book a scream.

Novels and short stories are often so precisely crafted, we can only describe them in terms of architecture. That is not the case for this collection of (quite interconnected) short stories. This is How You Lose Her is gorgeously raw, and right from the gut.

What I mean is that Diaz's voice, and the world that is dramatized in this book, are so engaging and fantastic. The narration style is the single most incredible part of this book.

Sure, you'll have these lines that mark all praise of the book:

"She's sensitive, too. Takes to hurt the way water takes to paper." 

"The half life of love is forever."

"Our relationship wasn't the sun, the moon, the stars, but it wasn't bullsh**, either."

And those are incredible lines. Diaz is an exceptionally intimate thinker. However, what is more powerful is Diaz's natural, well articulated prose that incorporates both a striking vision of the Dominican-American immigrant experience and the total confusion of growing up in New Jersey.
"We were real Jersey, too: malls, the parents, movies, and a lot of TV."
Don't know if you've spent much time in Jersey, but that is a pretty spot on description. Jersey is more or less lifeless in this respect, it's flat. It breeds contempt for itself and a love for other worlds, other places. Perhaps for Yunior, it bred the desire for other things a bit too much.

NOTE: a great deal of this book is heavily involved with sex or has sexual references. There are a few lines one might find vulgar, and a few words as well. This was the first time I'd read the n-word in relation to a non-African-American culture, and at first, I was opposed to its use because I didn't really understand, and then I figured it had to be part of the immigrant appropriating words used to describe them. Diaz has a great response for why he chose to have Yunior use that particular word. (Full press conference here.) It's a great read/watch, actually. On the question of why Diaz chose Yunior to use the n-word:

Diaz: So is it that the representation of that reality is problematic?

Plaid: It's -- I think there's some people who just feel like I don't understand why he uses the word at all.  
Diaz: So, because. 
Plaid: Because. 
Diaz: Yeah, I guess I don't get the question. I mean I guess like, I guess, yeah... I'm not sure I, I'm trying to get the question. Is it that certain people -- because -- I guess the thing, like, for example, I represent child rape in my books, so is the problem that some aspects of our reality should never be represented? So that the fact that I mean the way I grew up, certainly when I immigrated to the United States, I was called three kinds of 'nigger' growing up. So what would be my artistic relationship to a reality? The same thing, there was an enormous amount of sexual assault, sexual abuse, incest and rape in the community I grew up. So the question for me is always that what are we -- what is the resistance that folks have about representation? Because for me the question is, is the argument that this shouldn't be represented? So therefore, for example, certain folks are not permitted to represent well, well what? I mean having been, you know, spent my entire US childhood being called various forms of 'nigger,' the thing would be, does that mean somehow because my sort of African descent-ness is not phenotypically recognizable enough? Is that the problem?
He goes on to speak about the Haitian and Haitian-Dominican genocide and how this relates. It's fascinating.

Anyhow, let's just leave it at that: the writing is genuine, thoughtful, provoking, tender, and just damn good. Like just really refreshingly amazing. It is in our voice, with all of the mention of homegirls and throwbacks to Sci-Fi. And to top it off, it's layered with all of the hispanic slang you definitely tried to learn from the Spanish kids in your school. The Spanglish parts are my absolute favorite. There are relatively few authors who get to puncture the white veil of American literature, and Diaz certainly does so with many style points.

Unlike most people who are heading into this book, I have not read that much of Diaz's novel, The Brief and Wonderful Life of Oscar Wao. However, I can already say that much of the geek culture, the broad scope, and the wealth of historical references that make up the pages of that book are . . . not present here. It's a different kind of book, even though it shares a narrator.

The book has its faults. The most obvious being the lack of narrative closure. This might be due to the fact that I read much of it like a novel, because many of the stories revolve around Yunior in some way. It might also be due to the fact that the last story is called The Cheater's Guide to Love and yet, there is very little going on in terms of working on the shape of the message of the book. There is not much immediately to be taken away from the book: Yunior is seriously terrible at monogamous relationships.

Instead, the book often delves more into the complex realms of social and cultural realms that create the environment around Yunior. But if you really wanted a sketch of that environment, read Diaz's first book, Drown. It's a lot less funny but it'll break you to pieces. It might be a stretch, but as I understand it, the takeaway is that it's not immediately a guide to not cheat. But rather, it's a guide to help understand the mind of a person who happens to be terrible at monogamous relationships. However, this is a bit of a stretch and me just trying to understand the author. If there was a clear message written into the book, I did not receive it.

My last, and quite brief, little bit of hate I have for this book is the lack of female characters. They're often there only to serve as a lesson for Yunior which he does not learn. Diaz has admitted he has a hard time writing female characters. I expected at some point in the book to shift perspectives, to give the experience a more rounded edge and to understand more. But the book remains thin, and remains mostly Yunior, except for a single story in which the female narrator is somewhat stunted. This story would have helped, if it were connected to Yunior, but it's not in any immediate way. Don't get me wrong, the book highly praises certain women, and certain women show, for flickers of narration, a fascinating view of this particular world . . . but it's brief.

Wow, that was long. Sorry! This book is amazing! Read it!

The apocalypse happens, and after 7 books of building up to the flock saving the world, they hide in a cave while mass chaos occurs and most people die. It was a ridiculous way to end the series so that is why I looked forward to the next one, in which all of that was a bad dream and they actually woke up and saved the world. Unfortunately so, that was not the case. Also, romantic drama with Fang made me want to die, they were such a cute couple and were even the reason that I got into fanfiction, it's incredibly disappointing that books 6-9 were so obnoxious about FAX.
- Marlon

Do you also hate New Jersey? I do!
Let us know in the comments!

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