“When you first start writing stories in the first person if the stories are made so real that people believe them the people reading them nearly always think the stories really happened to you. If you can do this you are beginning to get what you are trying for which is to make the story so real beyond any reality that it will become a part of the reader’s experience and a part of his memory.” - Ernest Hemingway
I eagerly awaited a new book from Junot Díaz, having been a big fan of his first two books, “Drown” and “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.” This new book, “This Is How You Lose Her” is very much in the same vein as his debut - a collection of short stories that hang together thematically and not as “just” a collection of short stories.
While it may not be a “novel” in the strictest sense of the word, it works very well as if it were one, it’s main theme being the price of infidelity and the effects it has on individuals but there is a lot more here: identity themes, explorations of masculinity, growing up an immigrant in a not so tolerant environment, coping with death, rape, sibling rivalries, racism, cultural attitudes (particularly towards woman), personal growth and a healthy dose of introspection. Like in “Drown”, the protagonist is once again “Yunior” who we follow through these stories from childhood to the present day (but not necessarily in that order). The main difference between this book and his debut is that these stories have a lot more depth to them, a perfect example being the Raymond Carver-esque “Otravida, Otravez”, one of my personal favorites. You can sense the Carver influence in “The Sun, The Moon, The Stars.” as well but Díaz most definitely has his own voice and it comes through much stronger than ever, particularly on the more experimental narratives such as “Flaca” and “Miss Lora.”
One of the most enjoyable aspects of these stories are the characters that populate them. They are real people. If you’re someone my age, you know them well. You grew up around them, were friends with them, lived in the same neighborhoods as they did, went to school with them, hung out with them; and despite the fictional framework in which they are presented, you can’t help but wonder if these characters are actually real people. They are all extremely well developed characters, down to the most trivial of behavioral ticks and mannerisms; and that is one of Díaz’s strengths as a writer - his ability to make you feel that youknow the people he writes about; and that coupled with a wicked and sometimes wry sense of humor, you feel as if you are right there with all of them. We follow Yunior through his trials and travails, his fuck ups and ultimately the lessons he learns from them: that it's true love that eventually lasts, not the quest for sexual dominance and power, the coming to grips with thehumanity of women.
“This Is How You Lose Her” has only been out for three days and it has already received high praise from many quarters and after reading it it’s easy to see why. It’s a very human book with very human stories and it is yet another glimpse of a writer who is not afraid to be himself and one who has the uncanny ability to get inside those he writes about. This is another winner and once again, I eagerly await what he has in store next. Let's just hope it's not too long a wait.