So there I was, frantically browsing through books at the Himmel Park Library in Tucson (one of, like, the coziest libraries ever). It was a few minutes before closing and I needed to find a book, fast.
Then I saw Junot Diaz’s short story collection This is How You Lose Her, and I opened the first page, began to read.
A few moments later a voice said, “Miss, miss, we’re closing.”
I looked up to find a security guard peering down at me. For a moment, I felt confused. Because, you see, I was so engrossed in Diaz’s opening story, The Sun, the Moon, the Stars, that I had forgotten where I was.
The story begins with a catchy and unique voice: “I’m not a bad guy. I know how that sounds–defensive, unscrupulous–but it’s true. I’m like everybody else: weak, full of mistakes, but basically good. Magdalena disagrees though. She considers me a typical Dominican man: a sucio, an asshole.”
I was totally hooked. I snatched up that book, brought it home.
And it didn’t disappoint. Diaz weaves together a collection of stories centered around a Yunior, a Dominican man, and his fumbling quest for loves.
The prose is daring, evocative, crass, funny, heartbreaking and beautiful.
I have to admit that I’m not one for short stories. I prefer novels, where I can sink down inside another world and languish there for hours and days.
Yet Diaz’s stories interconnect in a brilliant yet seamless way so that you’re seeing the characters from different angles and views, different time periods. There’s Yunior, of course; his brother, Rafa, who dies young of cancer; a best friend, Elvis, who loves his wife and daughter but still can’t stop himself from cheating; and a parade of strong-willed yet flawed women that flit through the pages.
And this is what makes these stories so strong, so bold, so lasting: everyone is flawed, and yet it is their very flaws that make them so likable, and even, at times, lovable.
My favorite stories were: Otravida, Otravez, about a young immigrant woman who works in a laundry. The writing is so lovely that I often had to pause and reread a sentence, just to feel the sounds against my tongue: “Here is what the wife looks like. She is small with enormous hips and has the grave seriousness of a woman who will be called dona before she’s forty. I suspect that if we were in the same life we would not be friends.”
The Pura Principle, about Yunior’s older brother Rafa, dying of cancer. This is written in a more hard-hitting tone that nevertheless resonates an odd tone of truth: “I never would have guessed it would last as long as it did. My mother couldn’t resist my brother. Not ever. No matter what the fuck he pulled–and my brother pulled a lot of shit–she was always a hundred percent on his side, as only a Latin mom can be with her querido oldest hijo.”
But the strongest, most powerful story is the last one, The Cheater’s Guide to Love. Written in the second-person, it’s funny and endearing, sad and bittersweet and perfectly sums up the voice of the entire collection, mingling shards of grief with a strange touch of humored hope.
I highly, highly recommend This is How You Lose Her.
P.S. Diaz is also author of Drown and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Pulitzer Prize.
P.S.S. We have only five days left here in Tucson (so sad!) and then I’m headed off to Philly to visit with my sister and mother, and then back to Alaska and my real life and, of course, lots of runs in the mountains with my best gal, Seriously.