Thursday, March 14, 2013

Nothing I Do Better Than Revenge

I'll put it out there:  Junot Diaz is now the Taylor Swift of literature.  Taylor is said to date a lot of boys, so that they can dump her, so that she will have something to write her hit songs about.   Junot Diaz' main character gets dumped so many times in his book of short stories, This is How You Lose Her, that Diaz is worthy of the same reputation.  Of course, his little ditties are a lot dirtier than Taylor's.

In the nine stories of Lose Her, Diaz revives his character, Yunior, from The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.  Yunior tells the tales of his sexcapades, in a way that somehow becomes literature.  While I found the use of Dominican words without translations really annoying in Oscar Wao, the Dominican in Lose Her is not as bothersome.  Maybe I've just warmed up to him. 

I listened to Lose Her on audio book.  Diaz read it himself, and his voice for Yunior was perfect.  I loved how he talked about his "boys", and how his pauses and pronunciations gave another meaning to the plain words.  There was only one story where Diaz read as a woman, "Otravida, Otravez".  At first he sounded self conscious. When another character accused the first of sounding like a man, I wondered if the book really included those words (it does) or if Diaz said it to explain his discomfort.  By the time the story was finished I thought that his voice for this character was also just right.

After listening to the audio book, I checked the real thing out of the library.  Looking at it, I am really glad that I listened instead.  Diaz chose not to use quotation marks, and without them I found the characters' voices harder to imagine, even after hearing them.  There's something about Diaz' telling of Yunior's sexual conquests that makes them charming or at least excusable.  Reading the same stories on paper made me realize that I don't want my son, or my dad for that matter, to read this book.

The stories included lots of  sex and breakups, an affair with a high school teacher, a story of a woman trying to ignore the fact that her boyfriend has a wife in the Dominican Republic, a story of a brother dying of cancer, and the most-likely-to-be-mostly-true story of Diaz's five year attempt to get over his ex. 

There were a ton of great quotes.  Here are two of my favorites:

". . . arms that are so skinny that they belong on an after-school special." from "Alma"

"Both of you are smiling.  Both of you blinked."  from "Miss Lora"

It doesn't make for a great quote, but I also loved this from "The Cheater's Guide to Love".  The Dominican tough guy, Yunior, says about his "boy", Elvis, "He's going to yoga five times a week now, is in the best shape of his life, while you [Yunior] on the other hand have to buy bigger jeans instead."

When Yunior wonders why all of his ex girlfriends are sending him invitations to their weddings, Elvis' wife explains that it is because living well is the best revenge, and they want to show that they are over him.  In the end, Yunior finds his own way to live well, even if it is his ex who deserves the revenge.

It is hard not to think that Yunior is a thinly veiled Junot Diaz.  But then, I had to wonder if Yunior wasn't like a superhero version of him instead.  It was sort of funny to imagine Diaz with no swagger; a guy who can't get laid even with a Pulitzer.  Somehow that seems unlikely.

This is How You Lose Her was a NYT Notable for 2012.

Next up on CD:  The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James.  My ears need some cleansing after all of Diaz' b*tches and ho's!

Still reading:  The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolano

POSTSCRIPT - August 15, 2013.  I admit it - I deleted a quote from above.  Normally I don't edit my posts after they have been published, except to correct  typos or misspellings.  But tonight, while I was paying bills I had the TV on in the background, and I heard the quote that I deleted come out of Charlie Sheen's mouth on Two and a Half Men, a show that I never watch.  That Charlie Sheen's character said the words that I thought Yunior was clever for saying caused me to rethink my impressions of the book.  Yes, Yunior is supposed to be a sexist jerk.  But if I wouldn't watch Two and a Half Men because of the outrageous sexism and dumb humor, why would I praise the same behavior in a book?  Still thinking about that one.  It also makes Diaz seem unoriginal.  Sheen was fired from Two and a Half Men in March of 2011, and This is How You Lose Her wasn't released until September of 2012.  In Diaz' defense, he said that the quote was an old saying, but still.  Come up with something new.

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