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This review is from: This Is How You Lose Her (Hardcover)
Do you remember when you first read a story that was both close to your life, to the language you heard on the schoolyard and at the breakfast table and also the beautiful words you read in the books from the library? The one a language of closeness, that was more air than language because you heard it all the time, and it was part of you, a comfort. The other, the words in books, made you sometimes shiver they were so magical. Then you read something that had them both, and you understood that any language could be wonderful in the hands of a magician? Junot Diaz's first short story collection, Drown, published 15 years ago, was that magic in my life. Its been a long wait for a follow-up, and this book doesn't disappoint. Yes, there was the Pulitzer for his novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, and yes it was well written, important, serious. But it wasn't magical like his short stories.
The narrator of all but one of these stories is Yunior, surely an alter ego of the author. And his voice, like the narrator in Drown, has the brain of a geeky smarty-pants and the soul of a puzzled, vulnerable Dominican kid who left the island, trying to figure it all out. No, not an original concept. But the stories don't rely on concepts, or plot. They are simply ideas told in a marvelously poetic voice. Poetic, but close to the ground. Real. His brother dies of cancer, his girl friend doesn't understand the island, and he doesn't understand her. He wanders the hood and goes off to college. At turns comfortable and alone. Sure of himself and puzzled.
But I have to give you the actual language, because that is where the magic lies. First the geek. The guy who reads and sees life sometimes through the reading. "A lot of the time she Bartlebys me, says, No, I'd rather not." Yunior takes his love back to the island, to see his abuelo and hang. But no, she wants the AC and the resort. And what a resort. The nightclub is named Club Cacique. And has one of those white, white sand beaches. "Every fifty feet there's at least one Eurof..k beached out on a towel like some scary pale monster that the sea's vomited up. They look like philosophy professors, like budget Foucaults, and too many of them are in the company of a dark-as..d Dominican girl. I mean it, these girls can't be no more than sixteen." "Muscles on his chest and abdomen so striated they looked like something out of a Frazetta drawing."
But then there is the magic of language close to the heart, language you hear on the street, that has no need to show off or prove something...
A lot of the Dominican girls in town were on some serious lockdown--we saw them on the bus and at school and maybe at the Pathmark, but since most families knew exactly what kind of tígueres were roaming the neighborhood these girls weren't allowed to hang out.
Here is what the wife looks like. She is small with enormous hips and has the grave seriousness of a woman who will be called doña before she's forty. I suspect if we were in the same life we would not be friends.
I'm truly happy for him. You did it, mi amor. We did it, he says quietly. Now we can begin. Then he puts his head down on the table and cries.
I don't even want to tell you where we're at. We're in Casa de Campo. The Resort That Shame Forgot. The average as...le would love this place. It's the largest, wealthiest resort on the Island, which means it's a god...n fortress, walled away from everybody else. Guachimanes and peacocks and ambitious topiaries everywhere. Advertises itself in the States as its own country, and it might as well be. Has its own airport, thirty-six holes of golf, beaches so white they ache to be trampled, and the only Island Dominicans you're guaranteed to see are either caked up or changing your sheets. Let's just say my abuelo has never been here, and neither has yours. This is where the Garcías and the Colóns come to relax after a long month of oppressing the masses, where the tutumpotes can trade tips with their colleagues from abroad. Chill here too long and you'll be sure to have your ghetto pass revoked, no questions asked.
Please Junot. Write a little faster. Fifteen years is way too long to wait.