So Junot Diaz is well known and highly revered, especially following his Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. And I tried Oh, how I tried to read it, but just couldn't get into it.
And now, now a short story collection. A short one. Just over 200 pages. That I can read in a day or two. And I did. But not because I enjoyed it. I loathe saying this. I just don't connect with Diaz's characters or stories. Most of the stories are from the perspective of a young Dominican living in New Jersey, Yunior. But all the stories, with Yunior or without, all have the same voice and, to me, tell of similar stories. Mostly of pain-in-the-ass abusive, promiscuous Latinos (from the Dominican Republic or Puerto Rico). I am pretty sure there is more to that culture, but you'd never know it from this collection.
Is Junot Diaz a great writer? Yes. He has a way of embedding you quickly in a character and relationships that is usually
unseen in short stories. That dedication is generally left to novels and
longer works. Diaz also is a creator of some terrific heartbreaking yet humorous sentences:
I has an IQ that could have broken you in two but I would
have traded it in for a halfway decent face in a second.
I had a lousy Third world childhood and all I got was this attitude.
Also, Yunior's voice is a unique blend of intelligence and street vernacular.
The muscles on his chest...so striated they looked like... Frazetta
...the hardest dude in the nabe chasing price checks like a
The characters speak a combination of Spanish and English. While this can sometimes be confusing for a non-Spanish speaker, it definitely rings true to the vernacular of many Latinos living in the United States.
These are things unique to Diaz's stories.
This collection is not without value and I suspect many will like the fresh voice Junot Diaz offers. I certainly think there is a place for it in our literary world. But, for me, I just couldn't feel it. I didn't care.
I did, however, have a favorite story: Alma, that contained a curse-word laden, but poignant poem within the prose and whose last line is the title of the story:
This is how you lose her.