I experienced a little culture shock this week, switching from the England of the Tudors to the streets of Patterson, NJ and the Dominican Republic with the stories of Junot Diaz. I think it was a more extreme jump than was really wise, but eventually I adjusted. They were good stories, but I still miss Thomas Cromwell.
Your girl catches you cheating. (Well, actually she’s your fiancée, but hey, in a bit it so won’t matter.) She could have caught you with one sucia, she could have caught you with two, but as you’re a totally batshit cuero who didn’t ever empty his email trash can, she caught you with fifty! Sure, over a sixyear period, but still. Fifty fucking girls? Goddamn. Maybe if you’d been engaged to a super open-minded blanquita you could have survived it—but you’re not engaged to a super openminded blanquita. Your girl is a badass salcedeña who doesn’t believe in open anything; in fact the one thing she warned you about, that she swore she would never forgive, was cheating. I’ll put a machete in you, she promised. And of course you swore you wouldn’t do it. You swore you wouldn’t. You swore you wouldn’t.
And you did.
This is the opening section of one of the stories in This is How You Lose Her, a lively story collection by Pulitzer winner Junot Díaz, whose The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao I loved so much last year.
I didn’t like this collection quite as much, partly perhaps because of the huge culture shock of shifting from reading about the Tudor court in Hilary Mantel’s books just before, and partly because the style was already familiar from Oscar Wao. These are engaging, colorful stories. They made me laugh at times, and they captured the world of Dominican immigrants to the US in sometimes powerful ways. The language flows back and forth between English and Spanish, between street and Harvard. It is not a book you can listen to with a five year-old in the car. There’s rarely a section that lasts long that is even PG-13.
And I think my other reservation about these stories is that the male characters never really outgrow being 15 year-old street kids. On one hand that is not completely fair, perhaps, but there is never something that feels like real deep, empathic love for a woman in these stories. There is longing, there is loss, there is a lot of lust, but I’m not sure there is ever much love. I’ve spent weeks reading about a guy who got a number of people beheaded, and I like and respect him more than the characters in these stories, because there was a depth of feeling, of loyalty, of generativity in Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell that is notably absent here. These characters have to do a lot just to survive the cultural transitions and divides that challenge them, to find a way to make it in the US, and maybe that should be enough.
All and all, though, these are a good read, and I’m glad to have been able to enjoy them.
Around the World (goal: 52 total including at least 6 in each of 6 different regions) 20
Asia/Mideast: 5 (Israel, China, Afghanistan, Japan, Iran)
Africa: 1 (Madagascar)
Europe: 8 (England/UK, Ireland, Monaco, Poland, Spain, Italy, Greece, Holland)
Caribbean/Central America/North America: 4 (US, Cuba, Haiti, Dominican Republic)
Oceania: 1 (Fiji)
Extra: 1 (Scotland)
Around the US (goal: 50 states, DC, and PR): 12 (CA, CO, GA, LA, MA, MN, MS, NM, NJ, NY, PA, RI)
1001 Books (goal 52): 15
A to Z challenge (must be completed in order–26 author last names A to Z then 26 titles A to Z–strategy is all!): 11
Authors: Auster, Beinart, Chandler, Donovan, Eugenides, Faulkner, Grau, Hosseini, Ishiguro, Joyce, King, Lewis, Murakami