Thursday, October 25, 2012

Book Review: This is How You Lose Her, by Junot Diaz


Let me just start out by saying WOW. I was blown away by Diaz's incredible prose - passionate, sensual and raw with emotion. Diaz makes your cringe, cry and laugh in this 224 page stunner. The book opens with heartbreak as young Dominican American Yunior struggles to put back together a broken relationship. In the next eight stories, we see various aspects of Yunior's macho but weak heart. With each love - of a woman, his brother, a neighbor - the reader gets the inside look and if you are anything like me, no matter how many faults he has, you are rooting for Yunior to find the something that lasts. He is a romantic but a womanizer, coming to terms with his childhood without a father, the death of his seemingly macho older brother, and of his own shortcomings as a loyal lover. Yunior is obviously smart, but he is a self-proclaimed "sucio" - which we are to assume is a man who is a jerk to women.

Similar to in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Diaz's prose is colloquial, filled with street slang, but beautiful. He makes the most despicable actions almost endearing with his perfectly worded prose. Like when Yunior is having an affair with an older woman, a teacher from his school, Diaz writes "You are scared stupid at what you are doing but but it is also exciting and makes you feel less lonely in the world", and how can you argue with that? Yunior tells us that he's "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." Even though you know you're not supposed to, you don't want to, you still do like the narrator, because his voice is honest and reflective...and this is why this book was a refreshing read.

Yunior can't stop cheating on the girls he loves and he doesn't pretend to be better than he is - not to us at least. He repeatedly disappoints us and himself. He starts out wooing and trying to recover his relationship with Magda, but is surprised to find that she is strong and won't succumb to his charm. As a kid, he watched his athletic, better looking brother Rafa mistreat and use women, dreaming that he himself, the worse looking but much smarter brother, would be so different. What happens to Yunior that he doesn't amount to much more than Rafa and his father did? Are we to believe that the two male figures in his life left this mark on Yunior? Or are all men "sucios" in one way or another? The part that gets you is that while Yunior feels regret, he is reckless enough to continue making the same mistakes. Only when we get to the last story, "The Cheater's Guide to Love" - do we see that Yunior is brutally heartbroken and sees the error of his cheating ways.

Only one of the nine stories stood out as unnecessary and confusing, and that was "Otravida, Otravez". I believe this is the only one told from a female perspective, and fittingly, it was poetically written - the writing was more emotional, included vivid environmental descriptions, and it was generally more optimistic, but I am still wondering what it meant and how it related to the rest of the very tightly knit stories central to the same character. Who is Yasmin? Is this Diaz's precursor to the next book? I did appreciate the commentary on hard-working immigrants, but did not fully understand this woman's connection to Yunior. Anyone else?

I read Diaz's other books - Drown and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao - and still like this one the best. This is How You Lose Her spoke to me even though it was told from a mostly macho male voice. It was moving, filling - and honest. This is not a grand, epic love story but in the end, it is a love story - mostly filled with loss and regret. Is there hope for Yunior? I don't want to give away too much because this book is a must read. Download this on your kindle right away!

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