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Review: ‘This Is How You Lose Her’ by Junot Diaz

Junot Diaz (Jim McKnight/AP)

Junot Diaz (Jim McKnight/AP)

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Q. You teach creative writing at MIT. Isn’t that like teaching astrophysics at Juilliard?

A. It’s more like teaching cooking in a state penitentiary. The students are on a very strict regimen that doesn’t always encourage them to think about the arts as immediately pertinent to their lives.

Q. Your new collection focuses on love, heartbreak and men cheating. Is sexual monogamy unnatural for men?

A. I wouldn’t say that. ... There’s a lot in the family culture, the masculine culture, the national culture which encourages certain types of behavior in men. You have to be almost heroic to resist those messages. This is a story of a young man finding a way to resist, to become, at last, human.

Q. In the September Vogue, you were photographed at Edith Wharton’s estate. When you were growing up, did you ever think you’d be in a fashion magazine wearing a bowler hat?

A. Sister, when I was growing up in New Jersey, I didn’t think I would be in any form of magazine. And certainly not hanging out with Annie Leibovitz.

Q. What’s on your reading list this fall?

A. “Kingdom Animalia” by Aracelis Girmay (poems), “A Tale for the Time Being” by Ruth Ozeki, and “Negro Building” by Mabel Wilson.

Deirdre Donahue
Gannett News Service

Updated: October 24, 2012 6:03AM

Nine stories, so many bouts with love.

Junot Diaz brings readers a passionate collection of stories with “This is How You Lose Her” (Riverhead, $26.95), the follow-up to his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.”

The collection serves up more of Diaz’s energetic, hip-hop style — primarily revolving around one character, a stubborn, sci-fi loving, New Jersey Dominican named Yunior. In a hard-to-resist way, the book could be titled “The Episodic, Immature Love Life of Yunior.”

The stories definitely remind you that love is complicated in all of its forms. Different types of love can be analyzed in each story: a mother’s love for her son; adultery; young love. But if there’s a common thread throughout, it’s that reckless behavior prevents all of the male characters from ever achieving total happiness, and there are always other women.

The book opens with the story, “The Sun, The Moon, The Stars,” and the first line from Yunior proclaims, “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.”

It’s an opening salvo; telling the reader to go easy on Yunior, don’t hold him too high, because we soon learn that he cheated on his girlfriend Magda. This was his reckless act, as was thinking he could save the relationship by taking her to a resort in Santo Domingo. It’s an easy reading story; at times you can laugh at how she tortures him on this trip and how he gets caught up with a wealthy executive. It’s youthful arrogance, a story of a love that Yunior wouldn’t let go.

Yunior tangles with a few more women throughout the book. There’s Alma, the artist, Flaca, a fling that “the boys” don’t approve, and a law student he mistreats when he’s older, wiser and should know better. There isn’t much growth in Yunior, just episodes of love that got started and never tracked.

Alma and Flaca get their own titled story, while the law student appears in the closing piece titled “The Cheater’s Guide to Love.” It features Yunior and his best friend Elvis and results in some Maury Povich-style baby mama drama. The outcome stings, but you don’t quite feel too bad for Yunior or Elvis because they aren’t particularly good guys.

It’s one issue with the collection. While Yunior and others in the book aren’t quite Tucker Max, there’s quite a bit of male boasting and objectification of women that makes you squirm and frankly dislike the dudes. You long for one less lengthy description of a Dominican woman’s body and for any passage of what one of these women actually thinks of Yunior. I’m sure that’s the point of the book, but the one-sided swagger can get tiring.

This may also be why the story “Otravida, Otravez” is such a standout. It’s the one story from the point of view of Jasmin, a hardworking girl who dates her old boss Ramon, a hard-boiled man, who has a family in Santo Domingo. He’s finally saved enough money to buy a house, and she’s going with. Jasmin’s roommate is Ana Iris, who has three children back home, too. The story carries the weight of characters being so far from family that they’ll probably never see them again. How do they adjust, and is it OK? This obviously hits harder than Yunior’s girl problems. It’s very moving, and I could actually read a novel about her. Maybe call it, “The Long, Harrowing Life of Jasmin”?

Dan Ochwat is a local freelance writer.

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