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This book made me miss my train stop. ‘Nuff said. Oh, you actually want to hear what the book was about and what about it kept my attention rapt? Well, then I will continue.
I was introduced to Junot Diaz by a friend a little over two years ago. Since then, I’ve read one novel and two short story collections of his, including “This is How You Lose Her.” I’ve loved his sassy, authentic, Dominican characters. This particular collection focuses on Yunior, a twenty-something born in the Dominican Republic and raised in New York. He can’t seem to help but cheat, and I was worried that this entire collection would just be tales of his escapades. But, of course, Junot Diaz is too good of a writer to simply create one-dimensional characters.
I was delighted to find that Yunior has a rich backstory since, on the surface, he seemed like the stereotypical macho Hispanic man. This book served to remind me that everyone acts the way they do for a reason or several reasons.
This collection chronicles Yunior from the teenage years and above. There are women he’s loved and lost, some of which he actually cared about. Diaz also develops the relationship between Yunior and his brother, a macho man idol in Yunior’s eyes. The brother becomes ill with cancer, devastating our main character. It is these bumps in the road that mold and harden Yunior.
These bumps can be seen, and are fully explored, in the last short story, “A Cheater’s Guide to Love.” In this tale, Yunior’s fiance finds out he has been cheating on her during all the years they’ve been together. They split, and the journey begins. Diaz divides the story into 6 parts, each representing one year of Yunior’s life post-breakup. Karma catches up with him, which had the vengeful Latina in me cheering. And yet, by year 2 or 3, I found myself feeling sorry for him. By then, I felt like he got what he deserved and should be able to move on. But he couldn’t. Any attempts to genuinely start a better life for himself were thwarted not only by mental anguish, but by physical pain and friend problems as well.
Is there such a thing as too much pain or punishment? Diaz subtly poses this question and many more in his book. He makes the reader question “right” and “wrong” because he paints the human experience in the richness of gray and complexity. Another aspect of his writing that I appreciate is the fact that he includes Dominican history and snippets of the Spanish language. While some may argue that this makes his work inaccessible to some, I’d argue that it lends another layer of authenticity to his stories. Personally, while I am half Dominican, I am not familiar with that part of my heritage, and I’m thankful to Diaz for filling me in. His use of Spanish and Spanglish makes his writing feel like home to me. It is the kind of writing that makes me break the surface of reality two train stops late…and I’m ok with that.
I’d recommend this book to those who would like Latin-inspired fiction that is by turns conversational and profane. Also, if you want another good Diaz read that gives backstory on Yunior’s father, I recommend “Drown.”
Lastly, below is a speech/Q&A given by Junot Diaz. In it, he talks about “This is How You Lose Her” and Yunior’s character. I was surprised to find that there are still more layers to the character that have yet to be written about.