On a beach in the Dominican Republic, a doomed relationship flounders. In the heat of a hospital laundry room in New Jersey, a woman does her lover’s washing and thinks about his wife. In Boston, a man buys his love child, his only son, a first baseball bat and glove. At the heart of these stories is the irrepressible, irresistible Yunior, a young hardhead whose longing for love is equaled only by his recklessness–and by the extraordinary women he loves and loses: artistic Alma; the aging Miss Lora; Magdalena, who thinks all Dominican men are cheaters; and the love of his life, whose heartbreak ultimately becomes his own. In prose that is endlessly energetic, inventive, tender, and funny, the stories in This Is How You Lose Her lay bare the infinite longing and inevitable weakness of the human heart. They remind us that passion always triumphs over experience, and that “the half-life of love is forever.”
Despite the fact that I really disliked The Brief, Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao, I decided to give Junot Díaz another try, and I’m very glad that I did. I wasn’t really planning on reading this one anytime soon, but oddly enough, this book came up in my YA Publishing class of all places and everyone was saying that it was really good. I therefore marched myself into Powell’s and bought this book. This is the first time I have actually done that and read the book immediately. Something inside me just knew that this was exactly the book I wanted to read at that point. It was weird, but rewarding.
I have to say that I admire Díaz’s style in this book. Written as a first person account, it doesn’t sacrifice voice for perfectly correct grammar and actually does it well. It reads in a way that seems very much like stream-of-consciousness, and it’s great to see this form done well. Often times, this style falls apart and just becomes annoying and unreadable, but not this book. It works really well. I especially enjoyed the fact that near the end, when it becomes “The Cheater’s Guide to Love”, it changes from first person to second, making it difficult to take yourself out of the novel and completely immerses you in the feelings of the main character, Yunior. I thought this was very effective and I admired his daring use of this form.
While this book could have turned into a book of excuses for Yunior’s infidelity, like I thought that it might, it actually became a book of reasons and explanations, but no excuses. Yunior doesn’t feel that these reasons excuse his actions, they just explain them. He never asks for sympathy and instead uses his writing as way of warning others that the path of infidelity leads to a spiral. It doesn’t just affect the one relationship, it affects all of the ones after it.
This book touches on the fact that sometimes, cultural norms, like the attitudes of Dominican men and women about relationships, are hard to break out of, even if you want to. Growing up surrounded by men who commit adultery constantly makes it difficult for Yunior to avoid this in his own life. Yunior never uses this as an excuse, but rather explains this fact so that we, the reader, can better understand why. He doesn’t ask for our forgiveness, he asks for our understanding and hopes that maybe we will learn something from him.
I thought this book was rather beautiful in the way that it portrays a man trying to stay connected to his Dominican culture while at the same time attempting to fight aspects of it. Díaz does a great job of showing this melding of cultures through writing certain phrases and words in Spanish throughout the novel which gives the book a more authentic feel. I highly recommend this book and am looking forward to reading more from Junot Díaz in the future.