Review: This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz

15th October 2012

Via Goodreads

*I received this book from the great people at Riverhead Books in exchange for an honest review.

From Goodreads:

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 lover’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 “the half-life of love is forever.”

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 of  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.

Add this to your shelf or see other reviews on Goodreads. Also, check out this great review at Feminist Texican [Reads].

*This is the only story that doesn’t seem to fit, the only one told outside Yunior’s perspective, with a shift in narrator as well. It’s an oddity I couldn’t quite reconcile with.

 

  • Great review! 🙂 I also mentioned that one story narrated by the woman in my review, and someone commented that she’s the person Yunior and Rafa’s dad had the affair with. Thinking back, I do remember something about her seeming vaguely familiar, but I never would have made that connection! I need to read Drown again.

    • See, I wondered that, but I went back several times and couldn’t find any connection. He smelled like bread from the factory and that isn’t what his dad did – at least I didn’t see that. It was just odd.
      But thanks! Loved it, overall.

  • Steph (@ 20 Years Hence)

    Oooh, Jenn, you have me hooked. I read Diaz’s last book (along with millions of other readers), Oscar Wao, and felt that it was good but not great. I liked it, but didn’t love it. There goes Diaz and those dichotomies again, I suppose.

    Anyway, based on my somewhat lukewarm response to Oscar, I haven’t really been following the release of this book with any great interest. But your review has changed that. Those passages you excerpted are GORGEOUS, the kind of writing that makes you pause while you let the words seep into the marrow of your bones. Seems like the kind of book you feel as much as you read it. I’ll definitely be picking this one up (in fact, saw a pretty cheap copy of it here in the Philippines today, so perhaps I’ll splurge and get one and bring it to the beach with us!).

    • Yes, yes, and more yes. It is full of such writing, and that I loved. Short story collections also often get a bad rep as not being cohesive, but because you follow Yunior for so long, you definitely have a much more unified reading experience than is typical.

      Also, the Philippines! Yea for beaches. 🙂

  • I just read The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, and I immediately fell in love with Díaz and his writing. I can’t wait to read this one.

    • Isn’t it funny how two readers (both of whom have blogs I read) can have such different opinions. Sara did not love Wao, you did. Love that about books.

  • Sara (wordyevidenceofthefact.b

    After Wao, which I did not love at all, I am probably unlikely to pick this one up, but your review is delicious. Interestingly enough, one of the things I disliked most in Wao was his inexpert handling of perspective shift.

    • Delicious? Me likey. 🙂

      I don’t have the benefit of that perspective, but if it happened a ton, I would be irritated, too. I guess I just liked how raw this was. It touched a nerve, for sure.

  • Fabulous review! Junot Diaz is an author I need to read sometime soon!

    • Thanks, Aths! I could have quoted him all day…

  • What a fantastic review! It makes me wish my reaction to the book wasn’t so lukewarm, although there were definitely some astonishing moments of prose. I agree that the story that was not in Yunior’s POV was kind of out of left field–it was one of those moments where I thought to myself “Okay, that was nice,” and moved on.

    • I actually thought when I finished that story that the collection would continue to vary from there, so when it didn’t, I didn’t think much about it until the end. Then, I thought: huh? What happened to that storyline? Had the others not been connected, no issue, but it was odd.

  • Charlie

    I’ve been wanting to read this, so I didn’t know about the language. I feel I should say I’m appalled, but it sounds brilliant! I like what you’ve said about him being the opposite of thinking pretty, because I know exactly what you mean and such an opposite I would love to see.

    • Whoops, Charlie! Sorry if the language offended. There’s definitely a lot in there, but Yunior is so steeped in it that it doesn’t feel necessarily awful when you’re reading it (though there are non-curse word moments that I sort of gawked at).

      But I guess I admire that. Like I mentioned to someone else, this book is raw. And that fight against the pretty, traditionally literary writing is pretty seductive.

  • Thanks for this review. I’m still not sure if this is one for me, but your review is pointing me ever closer to trying it 🙂

    • This review is bringing everyone out into the open. I had no idea people were so conflicted about Diaz. Most of the people I’ve seen have been super excited for this one. In fact, it’s partially why I put off reading it. I like to have some distance and perspective, so when everyone reviews it at once, I shut down a bit.

  • Jennifer Waggoner Hartling

    I just won this during the readathon and I cannot wait to get my hands on it!!

  • Judith (Leeswammes)

    I read so many good things about this! But… I’m not into short stories, somehow I don’t like them. I could just give it a go…

    • If you don’t like short stories, I’d be interested to see what you thought of this, since most stories are connected. Have you read any collections like that? If not, I think they’d be more accessible to someone who typically reads novels.

  • I was just remarking to someone earlier that I really want to read this book!

    • You should definitely try it out.

  • Oooooooooooooooooooooh — I need to get this — you had me at pretty and profane. YUM.

    • Yep – definitely not your typical male narrator.

  • Ana @ things mean a lot

    I so need this book! I loved Oscar Wao, and after seeing Díaz at the Edinburgh Book Festival I kind of developed a brain crush on him.

    • You and me (and several other bloggers) both. I met him at BEA, and he was so friendly, even with an enormous line.