Junot Diaz's debut novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, won seven awards. Like his earlier story collection, its protagonist was a male immigrant to the US from the Dominican Republic (DR). Diaz's latest collection also features an immigrant. Yunior has spent his early childhood in the DR with his mother and brother while his father worked in the US. His family is reunited in New Jersey.
Yunior's life mirrors Diaz's childhood in DR: a brother who dies young; menial jobs; neighbouring landfill. Yunior never attains Diaz's achievements, but Diaz said of previous characters that they were based on how he would have been if he'd lacked drive and "masculine privilege".
As the title suggests, most stories are about the angst that follows lovers' splits. Yunior is mired in a cycle of infidelity, being dumped, and abjectly begging forgiveness. Narrated in the first person, usually by Yunior, the narrative is spiced with Spanish argot and displays a young man's obsession with sex. Occasional glimpses of more formal vocabulary reveal his under-utilised intellect.
Yunior is wickedly droll. When his girlfriend asks about sex with the girl with whom he was unfaithful, he replies "to be honest, baby, it was lousy", adding in an aside "that one is never very believable but you got to say it". His "remorse" is childish, lacking guilt or regret about the effects of his actions on others. He merely feels whimperingly indignant about his punishment. And he never learns. But despite his hopelessness as a boyfriend, he is capable of empathy. His grief when his stud brother is diagnosed with cancer is powerful but unsentimental. In typical macho DR style, his brother womanises until the end. The immigrant experience is explored. Yunior's mother slaves for a selfish, inconsiderate husband. Women are often forced to leave children in the DR while they toil for minimal wages. "Otravida, Otravez" is narrated by an immigrant who secretly reads the letters her lover receives from his ex. "Nilda" tells of a promiscuous girl brought up in care who believes Yunior's late brother loved her, and fails to notice that Yunior cares.
In "Fiaca", Yunior needlessly ditches a white girl he adores because of their difference. Diaz's males are entertaining, but comically shallow. Some might argue that it's time for him to broaden his topics: being an immigrant needn't mean being defined solely by it. But the stories exude charm, and suggest that in love, you reap what you sow.
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