Character voice in Diaz's third book proves to be irresistible

Carolyn Williams
Writer

Pulitzer Prize winner Junot Diaz’s third book, “This Is How You Lose Her,” is of that rare, awesome breed which combines readability with literary merit. This is the first book in a while that I have been genuinely unable to put down.

For anyone unfamiliar with Junot Diaz’s rather unique style, here’s an excerpt from page one of the first short story in the collection, “The Sun, the Moon, the Stars:”

“See, many months ago when Magda was still my girl, when I didn’t have to be careful about almost everything, I cheated on her with this chick who had tons of eighties freestyle hair … Magda only found out because homegirl wrote her a fucking letter. And the letter had details. Shit you wouldn’t even tell your boys drunk.”

So there you have it. If this sort of writing doesn’t appeal to you, it’s probably best you stop reading here. But if this small sample whets your appetite, the collection only gets better as it goes on.

Diaz focuses eight out of nine of these stories on Yunior, whose misadventures in love are referenced in the title, and who figures both in Diaz’s first collection, “Drown,” and his acclaimed novel, “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.” Yunior, like Diaz, is a Dominican author and professor living in the Boston area, but the stories deal more with his coming of age and coming to terms with himself than the actual business of falling in and out of love. Romantic relationships play heavily throughout, but there is much more emotional writing of loss and familial love as well.

Yunior, though he tries to avoid it, has inherited the “cheating gene” of his father and older brother, and, well intentioned though he may be, cannot stay faithful to the women in his stories. He’s far from heartless, though. He bemoans his condition, spends the final story in the collection, “A Cheater’s Guide to Love” trying to get over a lost love interest for years, but he can’t shake this family curse.

Whether he’s demonstrating his status as a Dominican outsider in a white America or personally proving just how hard a good man is to find, Yunior’s voice is what makes this collection so excellent. Diaz’s interplay of English and Spanish, or slang and literary reference, are so unusual they become addictive. A great narrative voice can really make or break a book, and Yunior’s seals the deal for “This Is How You Lose Her.” I seriously cannot recommend it enough. As Yunior, that consummate cheater in love would say, “the half-life of love is forever.” And trust me, that’s pretty much how long you’ll be in love with Diaz’s book.

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