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.
Díaz is the author of the 1997 short story collection Drown and the 2008 novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
Source: I received a review copy from the publisher.
3 responses to “Book review: Junot Díaz’s “This is How You Lose Her””
Thank you for the review! I am actually going to be going to the Barnes & Noble event tonight in Union Square. I am not familiar with Junot Diaz’s work, but a friend felt strongly about me going. I am glad I came across this post; I’m even more excited now! 🙂
I just heard an interview with Diaz this morning on NPR. His insights made me laugh out loud (and I was having a pretty crappy morning). Thanks for the review. He did say that he really thought that everywhere around him, while growing up, women were seen and treated as less than men. He tried to explain that this character was realizing this injustice towards the end of the story and was beginning to be ready for a real relationship as a result. (Paraphrasing, of course.)
I have “…Wao” but I’m looking forward to getting this and the other book I missed, “Drown”.
Great review. I’m looking forward to catching him during his book tour.