Thursday, September 13, 2012

THIS IS HOW YOU LOSE HER by Junot Diaz


Maybe I should wait a while before reviewing this book, because all I'm getting are disjointed words: Beautiful. Ugly. Funny. Heartbreaking. Above all, POWERFUL.

THIS IS HOW YOU LOSE HER is a series of stories that (mostly) center around one character, Yunior. He's a young Dominican American; tough, proud, scared, angry--all of these are decent descriptions of the protagonist. What we see over and over, though, is his deep, deep desire to love and be loved. Unfortunately, he shoots himself in the foot over and over again, choosing sex over the love he craves. One by one, he has and loses women who are willing to give him that love, but not willing to be used.

What drives Yunior's self-destruction? Maybe it's being the 'other son', the one who feels like the also ran for a mother's love. Maybe it's the example set by his philandering father and brother. Maybe it's having grown up poor and feeling like he has to prove his worthiness over and over, to whomever will pay attention to him. Regardless of the reason, he repeats the same patterns of love, betrayal, and repentance over the course of many years.

My feelings for this boy (for so he remains, despite his physical age, right up to the end of the book) changed from story to story: first, I felt sorry for him. I really did--felt sorry for a cheater. With each successive story, though, I got more frustrated with him...until the last couple of stories. That boy broke my heart even as he broke his own in finally becoming a man. We're left at the end with a Yunior who has lost much, but perhaps finally gained an honest view of his own soul. When in the concluding paragraphs he concluded, "The half-life of love is forever," I knew he would be okay. And I cried for him.

Earlier, I said that this book is mostly about Yunior, and that's the truth. There is one story that doesn't seem to be connected to him at all. In it, the reader is introduced to the Dominican Latina experience (and the cheater experience from the distaff side). It is also well-written, but I know that I will be puzzling out for a while how it fits into the narrative as a whole. I know the connection is there--Diaz is far too good a writer to have just tossed it into this slim (only 212 pgs)volume--and I'll eventually find it. Lovely excuse to read this treat again.

I have no criticism at all of this precise, concise, well-written book. I do have a wish that I spoke more Spanish; I could puzzle much of the Spanish narrative out, but I'm sure that I missed shades of meaning. If profanity bothers you, you might want to skip this book. That doesn't bother me, as long as it is tonally correct for the book, which it is in this novel.

I've not read Diaz prior to this, but I'll be quick to remedy that.

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