Bleak Books

Apparently, I’ve been on a reading roll this week, because I just finished book #40 of the year. It was This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Díaz, and it was not at all what I expected, but not necessarily in a bad way… I think.

Okay but before I talk about this book, I have to express one thought. I don’t know if this is just me, or if other people experience this too, but certain authors really intimidate me. It’s not that I don’t think I’ll be able to understand their books, it’s more about all this hype built up around certain authors. Two examples off the top of my head are Kafka and Murakami.

It feels like everyone and their mother is dropping Kafka references. But he has so many books, and is so talked-about and celebrated, I just don’t where to start. This kind of author intimidates me. They also force me to confront the fear that I have the “wrong” tastes. What if I read my first Murakami book and I hate it? I know that’s ridiculous, and opinions inherently can’t be “wrong,” but still.

So, (I swear this is relevant) Junot Díaz was one of these intimidating authors. It felt like he popped up overnight and no one could stop talking about him or his incredible insights on modern American culture. So I recently bought TIHYLH on a whim because I felt it was time for me to hope on the Díaz train.

There are certain books that make me desperately wish that I could see the world through that author’s eyes for a day. Díaz writes that “the day is the color of pigeons.” I think that’s so beautiful. So even though I’m being all tentative about this book, his writing really is fantastic. Díaz writes so gracefully about some of the bleakest topics.

This book follows a loose narrative and an un-chronological (not a word) timeline, mostly centered around Yunior, the main character. Overall, I found him to be pretty unlikable and very unsympathetic. But just as I thought I’d read enough to form a that negative opinion about Yunior, Díaz comes through with these beautiful, heartbreaking, and explanatory stories about how he adapted as a young immigrant, and coped with his brother’s untimely, painful death to cancer.

You can sort of see Yunior grow throughout the book in that he stops using so many expletives and (kind of) cuts back on his misogynistic descriptions. But then in the last chapter, he’s pretty much making the same mistakes he has been, the mistakes that make him unsympathetic but also clearly make him who he is.

It’s definitely not a happy ending, but I guess there’s the faintest glimmer of hope and a semi-vindictive sense of poetic justice.

Yunior drives the whole story, while members of his family, his neighborhood, and his friends serve as secondary characters, typically also struggling with adapting to a disheartening and disappointing America.

Like I said, it’s bleak and not what I expected, but I did like it. And now I’m nervous that the book-taste-gods will find this and revoke my reading rights or something, since I’m not falling all over the novel. I do think Díaz writes beautifully, and am still interested in reading his other two novels.

Maybe the obsession will start with The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. ◊

I was staring at you and you were staring at me and right then it was sort of like love, wasn’t it?”

– page 89… oh, Yunior.

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