Junot Díaz’s This Is How You Lose Her, a nine-story collection, is the author’s follow-up to his 2008 Pulitzer-winning novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Seven of the stories were first published in The New Yorker between February 1998 and July 2012, one in Glimmer Train in 1998, and another in Story in 1999.
Reading these stories in the order in which they are presented here, one after the other, will be a greatly different experience than that had by those who read them over the fourteen-year period during which they first appeared in print. This Is How You Lose Her, in fact, reads more like a novel than it does a short story collection. This is because all of the stories, although they flip back and forth between segments of his life, feature the same central character already familiar to readers of Díaz’s two previous books. Yunior, a young Dominican, along with his mother and older brother, came to the United States when he was just a boy, and these stories, in addition to telling how Yunior got here, detail what happened to him once he did.
Be forewarned that these stories, insightful as they often are, are written in a raw, sometimes outrageous, style. Díaz writes in a Hispanic street vernacular that sees him often mixing Spanish words into his sentences. And, even though entire sentences are sometimes presented in Spanish, Díaz leaves it up to non-Spanish speaking readers to figure out what he is saying based on the context of the rest of the paragraph. But that is the least of it.
Yunior is a womanizer, and he comes by it naturally. His father, although not a constant in Yunior’s life, set the pattern for that lifestyle early on, leaving Yunior to learn all the moves by watching his older brother in action. His is the kind of macho culture in which women are primarily objects to be sexually exploited, and Yunior describes in explicit terms what he gets from the women who briefly pass through his life.
Some might find Yunior’s language offensive, but it is exactly this style and language that make Díaz’s stories as powerful and effective as they are. However, one does begin to wonder how long such a distinctive style can be mined before it goes stale for the reader. Even though this is my first experience with Junot Díaz’s work, I already wonder how much more of it I can read before the style becomes tiresome. Díaz is definitely on my radar now, but I am more likely to wait for something new from him written in a different voice than I am to seek out either of his two earlier books.
This Is How You Lose Her is a book about heartbreak – and the very macho central character, surprisingly enough, suffers much of it himself.