It was in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao when I first had the pleasure of meeting Yunior, the foul-mouthed little cheater who “shines” as the narrator of this collection of short stories about people who can’t keep themselves from straying.
Surrounding Yunior are his own family and the women in his life – each person has his/her own tale to tell, each person counting for something in the general scheme of Yunior’s own apparently-jaded existence. There’s Rafa, Yunior’s brother, and the melodrama that was his life. There’s Magda, who Yunior was so in love with, the little cheating bastard’s heart actually broke when they fell apart. There’s Miss Lora, who taught not only academics but also a lot more behind closed doors. These stories, basically, have the same focal point, and it is this one thing: cheating.
I love how Yunior is depicted not as a shallow, heartless person – the perception comes with the territory of the "cheater" label – but rather, a multi-faceted, frank character that has depth. Yes, of course, cheating is cheating is cheating, and there are consequences for Yunior’s actions, as he will eventually experience some sort of epiphany, but he is not all foolhardy and vulgar and libido. Despite his sexcapades, and for all his faults, Yunior would turn out to be a person who, admittedly, may not be someone we may fully sympathize with, but someone we will, at the very least, come to see as human – as human as you and I are.
Can anyone honestly admit to themselves that there was never a point in their lives that they haven’t cheated? Perhaps not in the same context as in the book, where Yunior’s promiscuous and lying ways may be a tad extreme as to be shocking to the senses (as far as the conventional readers go), but in other more common ways. Have you ever cheated on an exam? Did you ever short-change your parents from your tuition fees? Have you ever told a lie?
These are all forms of cheating, right? And perhaps the reason why Yunior is an effective character is because there’s a little of him in all of us – not the promiscuity or the vulgarity, no – but that little part that lets us fall prey to seemingly insignificant untruths – could be justified, could be otherwise – but are all untruths nonetheless.
If you disagree with me, go be a nun or a priest. And be holier than whoever.
I fell in love with Junot Diaz’s writing in Oscar Wao, and it is so with This Is How You Lose Her. I will never tire of the dry humor and sarcasm, the wit that is fused in the use of Spanish words and phrases that you will understand in its context – it doesn’t matter if no hablo Español. The prose is as compelling as in Oscar Wao – and I devoured each story with gusto. What I love about Diaz’s writing is the fact that he doesn’t restrain nor does he mince his words – beware the salacious scenes and brutal situations, they’re there if he deems them fit. Where passion is required, you will read only passion in every word; where emotions and honesty and contrition must be perceived, you will. The clarity and frankness that is Diaz’s writing trademark will always be something I will look forward to in his works.
"That's about it. In the months that follow you bend to the work, because it feels like hope, like grace - and because you know in your lying cheater's heart that sometimes a start is all we ever get."
Book Details: Digital copy