Monday, 21 March 2016

This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz

I'm suddenly obssessed with the cover of this book. It's the way it looks like the old Arkanoid bricks, which then suddenly makes me think about that heart getting chipped away bit by bit, and why didn't I notice this earlier? It's a quite brilliant design.

It's funny. I absolutely loved Diaz' last book, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Although I knew very little about Dominican Republic history, I did know the second dialect of the book, all the nerd references. It was thoroughly enjoyable.

This one has less of the nerd references, although there are still a few poking their heads out. Instead, it's a collection of short stories about Yunior, a character from Oscar Wao, mostly concerning how bad he is with women and how badly he treats them, and/or how his brother interacted with women before he died from cancer.

Given the subject matter, it is perhaps a little puzzling that I still feel a little distant from the book. I enjoyed it, sure, but it feels like I kind of danced over the book, and finished it without every really feeling connected. I wasn't upset, or annoyed, or thrilled, just...done.

And yet, I don't want to give the wrong impression. Much of the writing here is really wonderful. There were sentences that grabbed me. The short stories were each interesting - the problem may be that I have trouble connecting with short fiction sometimes, and that's an issue with me, not the author. I read so quickly that sometimes the story is over before it has time to make a connection. That may be what has happened here.

I remember hearing grumblings about the fact that Yunior is really a shitty partner to the various women in his life (as is his brother.) That's absolutely true, and yet it never really feels like Diaz is saying this is the way it should be, or even that Yunior thinks that his behaviour is somehow laudable. He feels shitty in a lot of his relationships, and there is a long history that gradually emerges that has led him to where he is, without seeing a way out.

It's one of those books where you don't know how autobiographical it is, because the stories have the ring of truth. Which could mean either that Diaz is drawing on his own life, or is just very very good at what he does. It's an interesting limbo that I also found myself in with Michael Ondaatje's The Cat's Table, and Jeanette Winterson's Written on the Body.

In the end, this is a good collection of short stories. I just don't connect as strongly with short stories as I do longer form pieces of fiction. But Diaz's voice is strong, and I look forward to other books.

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