Junot Díaz’s collection of short stories, This Is How You Lose Her (Riverhead), is absolutely brilliant – and just a tad annoying.
Most of the stories feature Yunior – a character in Díaz’s first book, Drown – who, like Díaz, was born in the Dominican Republic, immigrated to New Jersey as a child and teaches creative writing in the Boston area. All of these stories are told in Díaz’s unique voice that seems to be speaking to you like you’re his best friend. The voice is tormented, cynical and, to the reader, entertaining to read.
The book shows Yunior in different phases from his life, including one story (“Invierno”) from his childhood in which he is fascinated by the snow and disillusioned by his father: “I had expected a different father, one about seven feet tall with enough money to buy our entire barrio, but this one was average height, with an average face.”
But, most of the time, Yunior always seems to be breaking up with a woman or in some sort of relationship drama. “And that’s when I know it’s over,” Yunior says in “The Sun, the Moon, the Stars.” “As soon as you start thinking about the beginning, it’s the end.”
In “The Pura Principle” Yunior’s brother, Rafa, has been diagnosed with cancer. It’s one of the best stories in the book, and it has some of the best lines, such as when their mother turns to religion: “She’d never been on big on church before, but as soon as we landed on cancer planet she went so over-the-top Jesucristo that I think she would have nailed herself to a cross if she had one handy.”
An abusive partner is described as “a two-year-long PSA,” and a new friend is termed as “fresh-off-the-boat-didn’t-have-no-papers Dominican.”
And there’s this: “Pura was her name. Pura Adames. Pura Mierda was what Mami called her.”
While it’s a great line, that sentence also represents the book’s one flaw. Many of the women are portrayed as lying sluts. Yunior is not a saint himself, but I’d wish the women were more multidimensional, such as in “Miss Lora”, in which Yunior has an affair with an older woman, or in “Otra Vida, Otra Vez,” about an immigrant who works in a laundry room and waits for her family to call every Sunday.
(Díaz’s frequent use of the “F” and “N” words also may turn off some readers, although I understand that language is a reflection of the working class lives portrayed in the stories.)
But then, in the last story in the book, “The Cheater’s Guide to Love,” Yunior begins to grow up after his girlfriend catches him cheating on her and dumps him. You feel for Yunior because Díaz captures the pain of a broken heart so well – it’s slow, it’s hard, and it’s painful. It’s the perfect ending to a great book.
Source: I received a review copy from the publisher.