Junot Díaz: 'This is How You Lose Her'
Junot Díaz is a wonderful storyteller, and a Bostonian to boot. So when his new book came out, it was everywhere…everywhere in Cambridge, at least, but I have a hunch it was of national popularity. I was especially enticed by the title, This is How You Lose Her. Love. It. It promised love and heartbreak and possibly poetry. It had all three in spades.
The stories are almost entirely about a young guy named Yunior who was transplanted from Santo Domingo to New Jersey as a kid (one story depicts their harsh winter time arrival) and who appears in other collections by Díaz. The voice is strong, told in first and second person with tons of Spanish thrown into sentences along the way. Each story tells of girlfriends who Yunior and his brother Rafa didn’t treat well enough and lost. The voice is self-aware and confident–speaking at you more than to you–but sadly Yunior is not aware enough to avoid pitfalls.
One story, “Otravida, Otravez,” is told by a female, also a transplant, and contains the sort of sentences that make me give a crap about literature in the first place. “…back then, in those first days, I was so alone that every day was like eating my own heart.”
Another poetic line I loved from “Mizz Lora”: “You were at the age where you could fall in love with a girl over an expression, over a gesture.”
One of the reasons people love Díaz is for his authentic voice. On the one hand, it needs to come naturally–you need to understand a voice well enough that you can speak it. On the other, it takes a lot of work to make a character’s voice sound so effortlessly him. That’s Yunior. You want to hug him, punch him, send him to a therapist.
By the end of the collection, Yunior has moved to Boston, and I can’t help mentioning there was a passage that spookily foreshadowed last spring’s marathon bombing. Yunior is talking about racism in Boston and (in second person) it says: “You take it all very personally. I hope someone drops a f[&*%]ing bomb on this city, you rant. This is why no people of color want to live here. Why all my black and Latino students leave as soon as they can.” That’s from “The Cheater’s Guide to Love.” This book came out in 2012, not long before the bombing. I wonder if Díaz remembers writing that line and what he thinks of the irony.
Not to end on a sad note. The stories are bright and alive. They delve into what it’s like to be displaced, what America looks like to a transplant, the tortured mind of a young man and the love and hatred one can feel for their family. Check it out and let me know what you think.
Image from Barnes & Noble
Gigglers: I’m not going to seek out the newest hardcovers and tell you whether or not to buy them. And while not the Sunday Review, this Sunday blog will explore my brilliant and fascinating thoughts about books. Please use the comments section to share your own thoughts on this book, or whatever you’re reading.