This is How You Lose Her by Junot Díaz
Released in September 2012 through Allen & Unwin
Prior to reading This is How You Lose Her, I’d never read any Junot Díaz. For a long time, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (winner of the Pulitzer Fiction Prize in 20008) has sat in my To Be Read pile. For a long time, I have not touched it, but I do feel more motivated to pick it up now. This is How You Lose Her is a collection of short stories about love and loss, and the loss of love. It covers all sorts of love–new love, old love, forbidden love, family love, messy love, sexy love, heartbreaking love. The stories are narrated by different individuals, but figuring most prominently is Díaz’s regular character, Yunior de las Casas. I like Díaz’s attempt at continuity across his novel and short stories, but it’s something I’m sure I’ll appreciate more once I read his other works.
Yunior, like Díaz, is a storyteller, and his storytelling style takes some getting used it. Yunior shifts from English to Spanish without warning, and his voice is equally poetic as it is profane. While this might sound distracting, Díaz’s prose surrounding the Spanish makes it easier for readers to understand the unfamiliar words. It’s authentic and it’s unique and miraculously, Díaz makes it work. The collection begins with The Sun, the Moon, the Stars and Yunior’s opening line to the reader is “I’m not a bad guy”. Not only does that line set the tone for the first story, but I found that it serves as a reminder for the reader when considering the collection as a whole.
But is Yunior a bad guy? Sure. In certain parts, he’s an awful guy. He is disrespectful and treats his women badly (infidelity is a recurrent theme throughout the collection). But other stories reveal the deeper and darker layers of Yunior’s life. In Invierno, readers learn how Yunior’s family move from the Dominican Republic to America and come to understand the difficulties they face assimilating into American life. Later, in The Pura Principle, Yunior’s brother loses his fight with a terminal illness. Does that make up for the horrible things he does in his older life? Not at all. But for as much as I was angry with him at certain stages, my heart broke for him and the difficult life he lived. The final story, The Cheater’s Guide to Love, shows the reader Yunior as a middle aged man. It’s a bleak and at time depressing look at a man whose physical and mental state are beginning to fail him. His life is catching up to him and although he has mellowed and softened somewhat, Cheater’s demonstrates that old habits die hard and learning from the mistakes of youth is easier said than done.
This is How You Lose Her wasn’t my favourite book of 2012. But it made me think harder and deeper than most, and Yunior has an amazing way of staying with you long after you put the book back on the shelf.