This Is How You Lose Her, by Junot Diaz
Nikhil Kumar is The Independent's New York correspondent. He was formerly assistant editor on the foreign desk and has also done a variety of jobs on the city desk, where he wrote about markets, commodities and other business and economics topics.
Sunday 30 September 2012
Junot Díaz keeps going back: back to New Jersey, to the Dominican Republic, and to Yunior, whom he introduced in his first short story collection, Drown, and then resurrected in his first novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.
"I'm not a bad guy … I'm like everybody else: weak, full of mistakes," Yunior says on the first page of the first story of This is How You Lose Her, Díaz's new set about love, sex and the potholes cracked open by easy love and careless sex. But Magdalena, the lover to whom he is unfaithful, disagrees. "She considers me a typical Dominican man: a sucio, an asshole."
For a while after his infidelity is exposed, things get better – the couple gets "a nice rhythm going", "rummaging through the New Brunswick library together, the one Carnegie built with his guilt money" – before things sour again.
This could easily get tiring – young Yunior in the old place with the old foul-mouthed, street-wise edge. It takes more than an ounce of skill to go back and make everything seem new. Or, to be more precise, renewed – not reworked, like the work of some hack, but rejuvenated. And Díaz pulls it off. Yunior's voice, slightly nervous but already sharp in Drown, is sharper; drenched in the testosterone and peppered with the Spanish we're used to, but this time deployed with more confidence. Such as when Yunior cheats on Magda with Cassandra, who's dating Rupert: "I advised her to drop the moreno, she advised me to find a girlfriend who could fuck," he says. Or, in another story, when he turns to Nilda, his brother's girlfriend: she used to be quiet, he says, but that was before "she'd gotten that chest, before that slash of black hair had gone from something to pull on the bus to something to stroke in the dark".
And then there's that shadow of the homeland that tails every immigrant; that love and longing for the place that you left, or were forced to leave, behind. "Let me confess," Yunior says, momentarily turning into some kind of poet. "I love Santo Domingo …. Love the plane landing, everybody clapping when the wheels kiss the runway .... Love the redhead woman on her way to meet the daughter she hasn't seen in eleven years." Even the local traffic – "the entire history of late-20th-century automobiles swarming across every flat stretch of ground" – is described romantically. Once again, Díaz is pitch perfect.
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