It's hard to write about Ethan Canin's new novel America…
Last weekend I got an email from Christa who was twenty-five pages from the end of Every Love Story is a Ghost Story and she didn’t want to finish it because she knew what was coming.
I tried to empathize with her plight but I couldn’t. “Right now I’m immersed in the new Junot Diaz collection & want to call people Spanish words that I don’t even know the meanings of, but I know they’re bad. Like morena.”
That’s what reading Junot Diaz does to you. It turns you into someone who wants to swagger about and throw around Spanish slang as if you know what the words mean and you aren’t a forty-something white woman from Minnesota. (Aside: I looked up morena when I was done reading according to the Urband Dictionary it just means dark-skinned Latina. I thought its meaning would be closer to sucia. Now I want to call everyone sucio or sucia.)
There’s something about the rhythm of Yunior’s voice. The way he mixes Spanish slang and comicbook references with his pain that is not just hypnotizing but all-consuming. It’s dangerous too, because Yunior isn’t the kind of guy you want to like, especially as a woman who calls herself a feminist. A memorable character from Diaz’s first two books Drown and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao? Hell, yes. Likable? Oh, please god no.
But there were moments in the pages of Junot Diaz’s short story collection This is How You Lose where I wasn’t sure I’d be able to carry on. Asses, tits, mouths, hair, all women without children were boiled down to these physical attributes. Women with children were mothers and nothing more. If it weren’t so patently obvious that this was Yunior’s problem, I’d have given up.
Maybe. Okay, I wouldn’t have. I would follow Junot Diaz down every dark and twisted path he led me, because his writing is that entrancing.
Seven of the nine stories in the collection center on Yunior and his inability to remain faithful to a woman, his brother’s cancer, and his family’s experience being Dominican immigrants in New Jersey.
It should come as no surprise that this book is absolutely amazing. It may come as a surprise that it’s better, more readable, more heartbreaking than ‘Oscar Wao,’ Junot’s Pulitzer-prize winning novel which seemed to meander quite a bit and get bogged down in the political history of the Dominican Republic.
There is no meandering in This is How You Lose Her, Diaz is unsparing and focussed. It’s one of those books that is such a joy to read because the writing is so beautiful and the language so engaging that you start to feel a little guilty because the content of it is so devastating.
This is, simply put, one of the best books I’ve read so far this year.