It's nice to be able to recommend some good fiction occasionally - lots of books are written by men and about men, but not so often about what it means to be a man. Pulitzer Prize winner (2008), Junot Díaz has published a new collection, This Is How You Lose Her - this is one of those books, a collection of stories about being male.
Sept. 8th 2012
This Is How You Lose Her. By Junot Díaz. Riverhead; 213 pages; $26.95. Faber and Faber; £12.99.
STRAIGHTFORWARD writing about male lust is rare. Writing that reveals the price exacted by such lust is rarer still. Junot Díaz, a Dominican-born American writer best known for “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao”, which won the Pulitzer prize for fiction in 2008, is a master of this self-flagellating and surprisingly tender art.
His new collection, “This Is How You Lose Her”, offers a series of unflinching portraits of the power, if not the curse, of red-blooded Latino libido. The men cheat on their women; the women usually vanish, never to be seen again. Most of the tales are narrated by Yunior, the alter ego who forms the backbone of much of Mr Díaz’s fiction, circling around one relentless question. Is he, as one girlfriend asserts, “a typical Dominican man: a sucio [pervert], an asshole”?
These are stories about the difficulty of love: how hard it is to recognise or hold onto. In one, Yunior tries to save a relationship he has torpedoed yet again by cheating, on a beach vacation to his homeland. In another, he seeks solace from his brother’s death with an older woman, and wonders if she ruins him for girlfriends his own age. Some are bittersweet accounts of the fragile relationships between other recent immigrants. Many bear the names of the women Yunior both desires and is unable to retain. In the mere four pages of “Alma”, Mr Díaz details not just the steamy heat of teen sex, but the inexplicable way Yunior wrecks this idyll by charging wherever his penis leads.
The stories, like those of his debut collection, “Drown”, which came out in 1996, are quieter than the novel that turned Mr Díaz into a literary star. None quite matches the historical pyrotechnics and manic Spanglish that made the life of Oscar Wao so exhilarating. Yet in their exploration of this particular fuku [curse], they are engaging. In all his work, Mr Díaz manages a seamless blend of high diction and low, of poetry and vulgarity. Nilda, the girlfriend of Yunior’s brother Rafa, has “a chest you wouldn’t believe”, whereas Rafa has “the face bones of a saint”. Yunior is at once loutish and baffled; the effect is both funny and piercing. Rafa at one point has “his hand so far up [Nilda’s] skirt it looked like he was performing a surgical procedure.” Look no further for home truths on sex and heartbreak.