Thursday, June 16, 2011

Book review: "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao" by Junot Diaz

It is unfortunate that I so readily integrate a good book into myself; for the past week, I have been swearing more than usual (that's a lot), using slang that I may or may not have known before reading this book ("culo"!), and generally speaking in a terrible accent which is probably closer to Puerto Rican than Dominican. I can't help that last part. There was a large PR population where I grew up, and so my Spanish or Spanglish tends to come out as a mimicry of every PR girl I've ever come across.

How do they do this? How do certain authors manage to embed their book, their very selves, into us?

It's more than that. It's coming across observations, phrases in a book that slay us. I know that, you think. You recognize the thought.

But Junot Diaz moves beyond that. He writes beyond mirrors of consciousness, beyond world-building that is so terribly complete, so pervasive, that you argue with yourself: It's real. No, it's not. It's fiction. NO, it's real! It's NOT.

Rarely -- well, no, that's not true. Never have I come across something like this. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is singular, outstanding, and numinous. The writing, I guarantee, is nothing you've ever read before. It is perfection, every single word, down to the last.

Lord, I hate footnotes. Diaz made me read every one. Voraciously.

He made me believe, and I'm not even sure what he made me believe in. Not love, not, for fuck's sake, fuku. (You believe that shit? Tell me about it). Maybe he made me believe in stray bullets. Or the eighties. Maybe that God is an evil dictator with golden eyes. Maybe that men cheat. I already believed that one, though. God, I wish I didn't.

Oscar is every role play gaming geek you've ever known. He's fat, he's desperate, he writes space operas from sun up to sun down. His entire life is spent saying things like, "Sir, it's been an honor," to the college roommate at the end of the year as the dude's moving out. He wants to be the Dominican Tolkien; he stands in the courtyard with a sword, slaying invisible armies. He talks to strange girls on the crosstown bus. They leave. He's still alone.

He falls in love with a girl who has a boyfriend. You know where that one is headed. So he does it again. Oscar!

I'm going to take a moment to congratulate myself on recognizing the narrator of this little tale. And I'm going to take another second to say that maybe, a little bit, I didn't care for the sections on Beli's life. She's a tough one to care about. Even the hints and then outright description of reasons we should feel compassion for her don't touch me enough to make me love her. And yet, my heart tightened with sick recognition. Hey, maybe yours will too. People are like this, aren't they?

Yeah. They are. And if there is one thing I forgot that I once believed, it's this: There are people like this everywhere. Everywhere.

If only Junot Diaz could write all their stories too.

Two more things: My reviews tend to be emotional, stream-of-thought essays that are more my reaction to a book than an actual review. So read the reviews on Amazon to get a better understanding. And second: I don't cry often when reading. I outright sobbed when I got to the end of this.


  1. Oooo.... I am going to have to order this one! I generally find that when YOU get so worked up over a book, I tend to love it, too.

    I nodded my head in recognition at the cursing part. Books and shows that I like tend to influence me to an insane degree. When I was possessed by Deadwood, I went around cursing even more than I already do, and in much more imaginative combinations. Fortunately, I was receiving a LOT of sales calls on my CELL PHONE at this time. This meant I had the opportunity to unleash these streams of swear words at solicitors on a regular basis, even while standing in queue at the farmer's market.

  2. It would be hard not to love this one. I did see a few "haters" on Amazon, but to say they didn't get it would be a vast understatement.

    I remember you saying that Deadwood has possessed you, LOL! Oh, man, if that was so, then I sort of can't wait to see what this book does to you. It's written in a very unique way, as if a Dominican dude was sitting on his sofa telling you this story, and you were having some beers together. It would have to influence the way you speak. LOL! I can't wait!