This Is How You Lose Her

By Junot Diaz

(Riverhead, $26.95, 224 pages)

Who is this author?

Junot Díaz, whose 2007 mega-prize-winner, “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,” was the Hartford Public Library’s selection in 2009 for its One Book For Greater Hartford community reading program, is one of the most brilliant of our contemporary writers. And boy, does he like to keep his fervent fans waiting. His debut story collection, “Drown,” a book that literally had me out of my chair, cheering his talent, was published in 1997. It took 11 years for “Oscar Wao,” which won the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Pulitzer Prize and was named Time’s #1 Fiction Book of 2007, to appear. Now, five years later, we have his second collection, “This Is How You Lose Her,” and it, too, is garnering raves. Diaz has also won a PEN/Malamud Award and the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, a PEN/O. Henry Prize and more. A native of Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, Diaz and his family moved to New Jersey when he was 6. An avid reader, he went on to earn degrees from Rutgers and Cornell universities and is now a professor at MIT. His fiction often parallels his own family’s experiences, and he is admired for his jump-off-the-page dialog and commentary, which mixes English, Spanish, Dominican idioms and a wicked sense of humor into an absolutely unforgettable voice.

What is this book about?

“This Is How” is about love, love, love, love, crazy love. And how to drive away admirable, desirable women by thinking with the manparts, rather than the brain. And about mourning those kicked-away loves with bone-deep remorse, only to let the incorrigibly cheatin’ heart take over again when the next ill-fated romance begins. The stories are narrated by Yunior, the closest thing to an alter-ego that Diaz has, and he’s brutally honest, gaspingly funny and both adorable and despicable: a unique creation who seems utterly real. Many elements of Yunior’s life echo Diaz’s: father issues, mother issues, Domincan political issues, learning to teach, teaching to keep learning, a bad back, broken relationships. The collection of nine stories, some of which were first published in The New Yorker, is not strictly autobiographical, but their real life parallels gives them authenticity. Yunior is a slave to passion, but what he really wants is to be loved, no matter how untrustworthy he can be. Like an addict in and out and in and out of rehab, he keeps making new starts that are ruined by old habits. Yet he’s a remarkably sympathetic character, one with enough self-awareness to tell us an inconvenient truth: “The half-life of love is forever.”

Why you’ll like it:

Yunior is a rogue, but a great one. And part of what makes him…and Diaz’s writing…so appealing is his voice.  Here is an excerpt that shows its energy, blend of languages, unapologetic profanity, rueful insights and hilarious ranting:

“Your girl catches you cheating. (Well, actually she’s your fiancée, but hey, in a bit it so won’t matter.) She could have caught you with one sucia, she could have caught you with two, but as you’re a totally batshit cuero who didn’t ever empty his e­mail trash can, she caught you with fifty! Sure, over a six­-year period, but still. Fifty fucking girls? Goddamn. Maybe if you’d been engaged to a super open-minded blanquita you could have survived it—but you’re not engaged to a super open­minded blanquita. Your girl is a bad­ass salcedeña who doesn’t believe in open anything; in fact the one thing she warned you about, that she swore she would never forgive, was cheating. I’ll put a machete in you, she promised. And of course you swore you wouldn’t do it. You swore you wouldn’t. You swore you wouldn’t.

“And you did.”

Tell me you don’t want to read more.

What others are saying:

 “Junot Díaz  writes in an idiom so electrifying and distinct it’s practically an act of aggression, at once enthralling, even erotic in its assertion of sudden intimacy…[It is] a syncopated swagger-step between opacity and transparency, exclusion and inclusion, defiance and desire…His prose style is so irresistible, so sheerly entertaining, it risks blinding readers to its larger offerings. Yet he weds form so ideally to content that instead of blinding us, it becomes the very lens through which we can see the joy and suffering of the signature Díaz  subject: what it means to belong to a diaspora, to live out the possibilities and ambiguities of perpetual insider/outsider status,” says The New York Times Book Review.

“Díaz constructs a world of hybrid Latino identity…Homeboy is getting mucho más serio, more lucid, poetic, and deep into your bones than ever. His ventures into second-person narration have such impeccable flow that it’s as if he has let you into a conversation he is having with himself…” says Univision.

“Yunior might some day rank with Philip Roth’s Nathan Zuckerman or John Updike’s Harry Angstrom as an enduring American literary protagonist who embodies the peculiar struggle men face as they make their way through their lives and the lives of the women they implicate in their folly. Yet Diaz inflects this struggle with the complicated particulars of cultural exile, of want and of the bravado that is born of fear. “This Is How You Lose Her” is as funny as it is brutal, as complex as it is candid. It is an engrossing, ambitious book for readers who demand of their fiction both emotional precision and linguistic daring,” says NPR.

“Díaz is America’s best living short-story writer. His gifts of character portrayal and his sui generis writing voice will link his name with the country’s anthologizable greats, from Raymond Carver to John Cheever to Eudora Welty…Díaz’s [has a] singular writing voice, a vernacular Spanglish that runs easily to a kind of jazz poetry,” says The Wall Street Journal .

“Díaz’s standout fiction remains pinpoint, sinuous, gutsy, and imaginative…Each taut tale of unrequited and betrayed love and family crises is electric with passionate observations and off-the-charts emotional and social intelligence…Fast-paced, unflinching, complexly funny, street-talking tough, perfectly made, and deeply sensitive, Díaz’s gripping stories unveil lives shadowed by prejudice and poverty and bereft of reliable love and trust. These are precarious, unappreciated, precious lives in which intimacy is a lost art, masculinity a parody, and kindness, reason, and hope struggle to survive like seedlings in a war zone,” says Booklist in a starred review.

When is it available?

This is how you find it: it’s available at the Downtown Hartford Public Library and its Barbour, Blue Hills, Camp Field, Dwight, Goodwin, Mark Twain, Park and Ropkins branches.

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