The minute I heard that Junot Diaz was coming out with a new book, I could not stop myself from dreaming about the time when I would read it, back to back. That is exactly what I did with his latest book, a collection of short-stories, more like a fragmented novel more like it – “This Is How You Lose Her”. The title of the book was enough to get me going. Poignant and at the same time real. A lot like life.
Junot Diaz’s characters (if you have read him earlier, you would know) are raw, passionate and also might seem larger than life sometimes, but that’s also because of where their roots lie – The Dominican Republic. His earlier books, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and a collection of inter-linked stories, Drown were both superb and this one is no less.
“This Is How You Lose Her”, is about Yunior, a Dominican kid who was first introduced in “Drown” and then ended up being the narrator of, “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao”. He makes a full-fledged debut so to say with this collection. The book’s stories center on Yunior’s doomed relationships with various women. It is almost as though he has a death-wish. He cannot be in a relationship for long, for reasons that the reader discovers along the way.
The book opens with the story, “The Sun, The Moon, The Stars”, where Yunior tries so hard to hang on to his one of many relationships. He cheats on his girlfriend (not once) and wants to win her trust back. That is the core of this story. It first made an appearance in 1999 in The New Yorker and by far is one of the best stories in this collection for me (after “The Cheater’s Guide to Love”).
Yunior’s interactions with women but obviously are most note-worthy in the book. However, it is the secondary characters as well that matter the most. For instance, his brother Rafa, who shapes Yunior’s views of women to a very large extent and who is dying of cancer. The story, “The Pura Principle” linked to this one is sheer genius. Yunior’s absent father and his philandering ways are also hinted at, throughout the book.
The one story that isn’t related to Yunior is titled, “Otravida, Otravez” – about a woman who is a laundry nurse at a hospital, washes her lover’s clothes and constantly thinks about his wife and her letters to him.
The title comes from the shortest story in the book, “Alma” and how Yunior manages to lose her. The last story in the book that ties all ends and we see an adult Yunior, looking back on his mistakes is aptly and most ironically titled, “The Cheater’s Guide to Love”.
The writing is stupendous. Every word is in its place and cannot be replaced. There will be minor hiccups for the first-time reader to get used to the Spanish references, but that’s a large part of Diaz’s ethnicity which he but obviously brings through his books.
The characters are intense. There is no other way I guess to portray them when you are dealing with love and the matters of the heart. I would most certainly recommend this collection to everyone. Even to those who haven’t read his books earlier. Yunior as a character will be loved by you and hated at the same time, and if you have ever been in love, you will empathize deeply at his affairs and his loves. An outstanding read of the year.