Current Weather
The Spy FM

‘Lose Her’ Finds Power In Resonant Voices

Filed by KOSU News in Art & Life.
September 13, 2012

Great fiction is built around characters that follow the fruitless and wrongheaded paths they’re offered, which is how readers savor safe passage into someone else’s impetuosity. Yunior, who first appeared in Junot Diaz’s debut collection, Drown, is the narrator in several of the stories in the Pulitzer Prize–winning author’s third book, This Is How You Lose Her. Yunior is now middle-aged, middle-class, a self-described sucio struggling to mature into adulthood and not succeeding particularly well. Most of the stories here dissect Yunior’s reckless behavior, and all of them feature characters with a ham-fisted approach to love. The collection deals in different brands of exile, self-imposed or cultural, by which people are forced to live the paradoxical condition of both needing and rejecting connection.

From a laundry facility supervisor and the freshly emigrated employee looking to grift her way into the American Dream to a family negotiating the decline of a charismatic son’s health, each story is merciless in its treatment of the heart’s desires and defenses. In the last pages of the story “The Cheater’s Guide to Love,” Yunior examines the Doomsday Book, a folder of material his ex-girlfriend leaves behind after their break-up. “And finally when you feel like you can do so without blowing into burning atoms, you open a folder … copies of all the emails and fotos from the cheating days and the ones the ex found and compiled and mailed to you a month after she ended it. Dear Yunior, for your next book.” That “next book” would seem to be the book we have in hand, a book filled with revelations that offer the reader a deeper understanding of how one’s history informs one’s present.

Diaz banks on the appeal of his characters to balance their less palatable qualities: cruelty, abuse, infidelity. From story to story, he brandishes the force of these voices, almost always to strong effect. This complexity is one of the greatest appeals of Diaz’s work.

The dark ferocity of each of these stories and the types of love it portrays is reason enough to celebrate this book. But the collection is also a major contribution to the short story form. Although the title story’s ending falls flat, nearly every story exemplifies the beauty of Diaz’s minimalist and voice-driven writing. Like his hugely popular and heralded novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, the new book is written in a mix of Spanish, pop culture-speak and Americana, and reveals a perplexing web of labor, friendship and family. It is more realist and compressed than Oscar Wao, but Diaz’s touch is unmistakable.

In what may be the most poignant story, “Invierno,” Diaz tells the tale of a young Yunior and his brother when they’ve first arrived to the States from the Dominican Republic. It’s snowing, but they’re forbidden by their father to venture outside. Instead they watch the other children play. Diaz writes, “That night I dreamed of home, that we’d never left … Learning to sleep in new places was an ability you were supposed to lose as you grew older, but I never had it.” This seems to be the condition of many of the characters in the book, aching to find home in resistant climates.

Yunior might some day rank with Philip Roth’s Nathan Zuckerman or John Updike’s Harry Angstrom as enduring American literary protagonist who embodies the peculiar struggle men face as they make their way through their lives and the lives of the women they implicate in their folly. Yet Diaz inflects this struggle with the complicated particulars of cultural exile, of want and of the bravado that is born of fear. This Is How You Lose Her is as funny as it is brutal, as complex as it is candid. It is an engrossing, ambitious book for readers who demand of their fiction both emotional precision and linguistic daring. [Copyright 2012 National Public Radio]

Leave a Reply

5AM to 6AM Living On Earth

Living On Earth

Living on Earth with Steve Curwood is the weekly environmental news and information program distributed by Public Radio International.

Listen Live Now!

6AM to 7AM On Being

On Being

On Being engages listeners across the spectrum of belief and non-belief in conversation about life's deepest questions. From autism to the ethics of torture, Krista and her guests reach beyond the headlines to probe faith and meaning, ethics and new ways of being, amidst the political, ecological, economic, cultural and technological shifts that define 21st century life.

View the program guide!

8AM to 10AM Weekend Edition

Weekend Edition

Weekend Edition Sunday premiered on January 18, 1987, and was the last of NPR's major newsmagazines to hit air. Since then, Weekend Edition Sunday has covered newsmakers and artists, scientists and politicans, music makers of all kinds, writers, thinkers, theologians and all manner of news events.

View the program guide!

Upcoming Events in your area (Submit your event today!)

Streaming audio and podcasts

Stream KOSU on your smartphone

Phone Streaming

SmartPhone listening options on this page are intended for many iPhones, Blackberries, etc. with low-cost software applications available to listen to our full-time web streams, both News on KOSU-1 and Classical on KOSU-2.

Learn more about our complete range of streaming services

We're perfecting the patient experience - Stillwater Medical Center