Cheaters win in Junot Díaz's This Is How You Lose Her
By Junot Díaz. Riverhead, 224 pp, hardcover
No matter how many bottles of Jameson you sling back, a broken heart blows. Which is why it’s such a common theme in literature—what better way to purge those demons than by committing them to paper? This Is How You Lose Her, Junot Díaz’s new book of short stories, definitely fits under the banner of “great breakup art”. If you really want to wallow, this book’s a better option than the bottle.
Similar to the Dominican-born, U.S.–based author’s 1996 debut collection, Drown, many of the stories here are narrated by Díaz’s fictional alter ego, Yunior, a doomed-to-heartbreak cheater with a heart of gold (he narrated Díaz’s Pulitzer Prize–winner, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, too). He falls in love with a girl, but he cannot keep it in his pants to save his life: it’s his tragic flaw. He expresses this most succinctly in “The Cheater’s Guide to Love”, the book’s best representation of a now-adult Yunior’s failings: “Love, real love, is not so easily shed,” but also “Old sluts are the hardest habit to ditch.” As always with Díaz, the mix of English, Spanish, and beautiful profanity is catchy as hell. Dude may be choking back tears, but he is doing it in style.
Díaz considers himself a feminist—in fact, This Is How You Lose Her really tracks Yunior’s realization that, surprise, women are people too. But forget about Yunior for a sec: the one story in This Is How You Lose Her told from a female perspective is “Otravida, Otravez”, about Yasmin, a woman who shacks up with a guy who’s got a wife back in the Dominican Republic. It’s affecting, but lacks the punchy energy of the other stories. Often, Díaz’s gals are overworked and drained of personality, or voluptuous, emotional ingénues destined to be fucked over. I’d love it if he wrote from the perspective of a woman who could give Yunior a run for his money. Miss Lora, maybe, the rebellious spinster teacher who seduces a young Yunior in the story bearing her name (one of the best in the book).
But I’m just nitpicking about a detail in a tight collection that’s bound to be on everybody’s top-10 list by year’s end. Yunior’s voice is so goddamn winning, his stories so beautifully told, it feels like cheating to ask for anybody else.
Junot Díaz makes two appearances at this year’s Vancouver Writers Fest, both at Performance Works: the first as part of Grand Openings, the festival’s opening-night event on October 16, and the second in An Intimate Evening With Junot Díaz, on October 17.