Tuesday, November 20, 2012

This is How You Lose Her, by Junot Diaz

Staff Review by Chris Saliba

Junot Diaz’s naturalistic prose snaps and pops in this brilliant second collection of short stories. This is How You Lose Her deals with the serious problems of race, death, family and the immigrant experience while maintaining a refreshingly light and energetic tone. A must read that is a sheer pleasure from the first page.

This is How You Lose Her is Dominican-American writer Junot Diaz’s second collection of short stories, and follows his hugely successful debut novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. There are nine stories in total, mostly written in the first person voice of Yunior, a young Dominican immigrant struggling with family problems and an often turbulent love life. The backdrop to these stories is a rather unglamorous American culture and landscape that Yunior must try to adapt to: his family watches too much bad American television and live close by a notorious landfill.

The most compelling aspect of Diaz’s fiction is his clear, realistic prose. Right from the first paragraph his quick moving, fresh and breezy style hooks the reader in. Diaz doesn’t show off or strive for smart literary effects, but rather goes straight to the heart of the matter. He writes simple, uncomfortable truths without fanfare, like when Yunior says: “I’m like everybody else: weak, full of mistakes, but basically good.”

The overall effect is that of direct speech rather than reading in a literary sense. Diaz uses a lot of Dominican-American street slang and Dominican words and expressions. You don’t understand Dominican, of course, but it all adds greatly to the feel and musical quality of the writing.

Diaz is a middle-aged 44 years old, but these brilliant stories are written in a voice that seems in its teens or early twenties. Young people’s problems like sex, relationships and family are explored in a heartbreakingly realistic way. The sadness and loneliness is however sweetened with lively, streetwise humour. On top of this, there are issues of racism and the difficulties of being an immigrant trying to make it in a foreign country.

This is How You Lose Her passes the most basic test of good fiction: it has the ring of truth and provides a window into the soul.

This is How You Lose Her, by Junot Diaz. Published by Faber Fiction. ISBN: 9780571294190  RRP: $27.99