*I received this book from the great people at Riverhead Books in exchange for an honest review.
On a beach in the Dominican Republic, a doomed relationship flounders. In the heat of a hospital laundry room in New Jersey, a woman* does her loverâ€™s washing and thinks about his wife. In Boston, a man buys his love child, his only son, a first baseball bat and glove. At the heart of these stories is the irrepressible, irresistible Yunior, a young hardhead whose longing for love is equaled only by his recklessness–and by the extraordinary women he loves and loses: artistic Alma; the aging Miss Lora; Magdalena, who thinks all Dominican men are cheaters; and the love of his life, whose heartbreak ultimately becomes his own. In prose that is endlessly energetic, inventive, tender, and funny, the stories in This Is How You Lose Her lay bare the infinite longing and inevitable weakness of the human heart. They remind us that passion always triumphs over experience, and that â€œthe half-life of love is forever.â€
Some heralded contemporary writers annoy the hell out of me. They’re authors you can tell think their prose is “pretty” and literary. Except sometimes I don’t know what their sentences are saying, they’re so convoluted. Junot Diaz is the opposite of that. In fact, there are moments when he writes pretty sentences but follows them up with a sentence so profane, I blush to think about it. He grinds the pretty from it, so the reader is constantly aware of two things: We are beautiful. We are ugly.
Using the last line ofÂ a Cisneros poem at the beginning of the collection, Diaz sets the tone and the juxtaposition of love as both awesome and awful: “There should be stars for great wars like ours.”
Diaz’s collection of short stories highlights this duality in every story, every page, and sometimes every paragraph, remembering the newness of love and the heartache of the end. Because, as he says: “[T]hat’s when I know it’s over. As soon as you start thinking about the beginning, it’s the end.”
This Is How You Lose Her has women, surely, the women with big tatas, the users, the cheats, the beauties, and the faithful, but it’s also about other kinds of love, maternal love. And Yunior describes how his mother treats his brother Rafa and him:
With me she yelled and cursed and hit, but with him she sounded as if she was auditioning for a role in a Mexican novela. Ay mi hijito, ay mi tesoro.
And Yunior is crass, no two ways about it. But Rafa is worse, physically abusive to his girlfriends with a mean streak as long as the line of sucias that prances into the basement to bed him. Rafa has cancer, though he doesn’t act like any cancer patient you’ve read about.
…he fronted like nothing had happened. Which was kinda nuts, considering that half the time he didn’t know where the fuck he was because of what the radiation had done to his brain…Dude had lost eighty pounds to the chemo, looked like a break-dancing ghoul, had a back laced with spinal-tap scars, but his swagger was more or less where it had been before the illness: a hundred percent loco.
Mami goes the other way:
She’d never been big on church before, but as soon as we landed on cancer planet she went so over-the-top Jesu-cristo that I think she would have nailed herself to a cross if she’d had one handy. That last year she was especially Ave Maria.
Let me repeat: We’re beautiful. We’re ugly. Though in this case, which is which is a bit more difficult to discern. And that last passage, I swear to goodness, is a poem in itself, laced with enough of the profane that I’m not sure whether it’s a prayer or a curse.
And more than anything else, that describes the experience of reading This Is How You Lose Her and about the love in Yunior’s world – it’s a blessing and a curse. It’s obscene, and it’s lovely.