This book holds a very special place in my heart because it introduced me to my future baby daddy and literary crush Junot Diaz. I was browsing the shelves of my local library back in 2012 and I noticed the book on a display highlighting new books. The cover spoke to me for some reason and I took it home. This was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made and it seems that yes, you can judge a book by its cover. I devoured the book that same day and I then went back to read Diaz’s first ever collection of short stories Drown, followed by his novel, the Pulitzer Prize winning The Brief Wondrous LIfe of Oscar Wao, which I’d had in my possession for years but had completely ignored as my “to be read list” was embarrassingly long. I’ve since developed a mild obsession with Diaz and I still kick myself for not paying attention to him sooner. I feel like there are those who adore him and those who can’t stand him (the latter have no place in my life :-p) but his work has had an undeniable impact. Now on to the review….
This Is How You Lose Her is a collection of short stories which all (bar one) have the protagonist Yunior in common. On the surface, the unifying theme of the book is love and infidelity, but Diaz’s writing goes so much deeper than that. This is also a book about masculinity, patriarchy, grief, relationships, and yes, as cliched as it is, “the immigrant experience”.
Yunior, the nearest thing we have to a protagonist, is really quite an unlikeable character but by the end of the book you can’t help but fall a little bit in love with him. Diaz’s writing made me feel as if I’d truly lived with these characters and I found them incredibly realistic. The book starts off with ‘The Sun, The Moon, The Stars’, a story about a holiday a couple takes in a last-ditch attempt to save their relationship. Diaz’s writing is startlingly authentic and his use of slang, both English and Spanish, does not come across as forced in any way. His writing is littered with expletives and obscenities but you really feel as though they add to the texture of his stories. Diaz has a poet’s ear and his writing is utterly sublime. He manages to sum up the exact moment when you know a relationship is on the downward slope perfectly:
‘And that’s when I know it’s over. As soon as you start thinking about the beginning, it’s the end.’
Diaz just hooks you and keeps reeling you in. Yunior is the narrator of the remaining stories aside from ‘Otravida, Otravez’, which gives us a story from a woman’s perspective. Critics of Diaz often lament his hyper masculine characterization and the fact that we only get one story from a female perspective seems to support that but I don’t agree with the criticism at all. Diaz is writing what he knows and if real life in the Dominican-American community is hyper masculine, why pretend otherwise? Real life isn’t sanitary, nor is it all flowers and ponies so I appreciate an attempt for realism in the literature I read.
My personal favourite story in the collection is ‘The Cheater’s Guide To Love’ and I found it an exhilarating read. It’s a story about cheating, heartbreak, and its consequences and it stays with you long after you turn the final page. In fact, I was so loathe to leave Yunior and his family behind that I immediately started Drown, Diaz’s first short story collection published in 1996 which also has Yunior as its protagonist, straight after. I’ve been told that I should have have read Diaz’s books in chronological order as they all have Yunior as the narrator but I didn’t feel as though I missed out on anything major by reading Diaz’s work in the way I did.
I could go on about this book forever but this has already gone on longer than I intended it to. I’ll leave you with a short passage from which we get the title of the book. Yunior has just been caught cheating (for the nth time) from his girlfriend reading his journal:
“Instead of lowering your head and copping to it like a man, you pick up the journal as one might hold a baby’s beshatted diaper, as one might pinch a recently benutted condom. You glance at the offending passages. Then you look at her and smile a smile your dissembling face will remember until the day you die. Baby, you say, baby, this is part of my novel.
This is how you lose her.”
Clearly I can’t recommend this book highly enough and I urge you all to read it. Also, check out interviews with Junot Diaz as well as he’s refreshingly honest and hilarious. Any fellow fans of Junot Diaz out there? Let me know!