With his last novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Dominican writer Junot Diaz took home the Pulitzer Prize. With his current collection of linked short stories titled This is How You Lose Her, the author is a finalist for the National Book Award. Not too shabby, considering this is only his third book. The stories, following the somewhat Byronic protagonist Yunior, show not only what Dominican immigrant life is like in the United States, but shows a more sensitive side to a pretty unlikable character. Yunior cheats on all his girlfriends, but we still root for him because we see that he is somewhere, deep down, a romantic inside.
The collection opens with "The Sun, The Moon, The Stars," which chronicles a doomed relationship between Yunior and his current novia (the Spanish word for girlfriend). A trip to the Dominican Republic as a last-ditch effort to save the relationship only serves to emphasize the couple's problems. While Yunior's machismo and Diaz's sometimes vulgar prose may alienate some readers, they give an authenticity to the work. Diaz writes the way these characters talk. You understand exactly how they feel, and this slightly voyeuristic view into their psychology makes these characters come to life.
Other stories, like "Nilda," show Yunior's relationship with his brother Rafa as he battles cancer. These stories don't really venture into sentimental territory, but you can feel the love and respect for his brother. Stories that centered around Rafa were among my favorites in the collection.
If there was one story that didn't quite fit in, it would be "Otra Vida, Otra Vez" (Spanish for "Another Life, Another Time"). It's the only female-narrated story in the book, and at first it's not clear who this woman is, or how she fits in with the story. Later on I pieced together that she was Yunior's father's lover, but the placing is wrong in the collection (it appears fairly early). As a story on its own, it's quite good. But this sad romance just serves to confuse in the context of the other stories around it.
Bottom Line: Perhaps alienating for some, dare I say lazy readers--the Spanish language phrases may throw you for a loop, but that's what the Internet is for. Sad stories about foolish decisions and how not to be in love. Clever, clear and thoughtful, Diaz's collection is definitely worth being a finalist for the National Book Award. Maybe even worthy of the National Book Award itself.
You can find Junot Diaz's This Is How You Lose Her at your local chain bookstore, online, or at an independent bookstore near you (click here for a list). You can also download the eBook to your Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook, iPad or other eBook reader.