Pulitzer-Prize Winning Author Explores Men's Relationship Hang Ups in 'This is How You Lose Her'
As if we needed more proof women are the fairer sex. Pulitzer Prize-winning author Junot Diaz's engaging new short story collection "This is How You Lose Her," explores the raging highs and lows of Dominican-American men, and their relationships with women through tales of heartbreak and eventual redemption.
In nonlinear vignettes of brotherly, paternal, and romantic love, Diaz's characters dig themselves into holes, and then must grin through their struggles and bear it. The collection focuses hard on men's shortcomings in their relationships with women, but champions the value and power of self-preservation.
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Much of "This is How You Lose Her" is loosely told through the perspective of Yunior, who first appeared in Diaz's debut collection, "Drown." While not explicitly present in every story, Yunior -- aged 5, 15, 20- and 30-something -- is at the core of them. Yunior is now middle-aged, middle-class, a self-described sucio struggling to mature into adulthood and not succeeding particularly well. Most of the stories here dissect Yunior's reckless behavior, and all of them feature characters with a ham-fisted approach to love.
As "the most awesome ex-boyfriend in the world" but a "terrible boyfriend," he never comes out the victor in a traditional sense, but he proves to be a survivor, continuously learning from his mistakes.
What are the roots of his constant romantic entanglements? Diaz suggests that immigrating to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic and witnessing death at an impressionable age contribute to Junior's commitment-phobia.
"Part of the art [of writing] is not to look at the most obvious answer," Diaz says. "When I think of what's wrong with Junior, I think: make a list of the things he's lost." That laundry list -- not limited to losing his brother to cancer, his own youth to the responsibilities that beckoned afterward, and his girlfriends to his vices -- doesn't excuse Yunior's flawed, sometimes chauvinistic behavior. But Diaz doesn't judge or shame him for it either. He's clearly more interested in acknowledging that the person hurt most by a cheater is himself. For all his faults, Diaz wants us to sympathize with Yunior.
The collection deals in different brands of exile, both self-imposed and cultural.
From a laundry facility supervisor and the freshly emigrated employee looking to grift her way into the American dream to a family negotiating the decline of a charismatic son's health, each story is merciless in its treatment of the heart's desires and defenses.
Through interrogative second-person narration and Spanglish vernacular, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author authentically captures Yunior's cultural and emotional dualities.
"I think [monogamy is] difficult, but I think: God, what isn't difficult? Given how easy it is in our culture to jump out, it makes that struggle all the more difficult," says Diaz.
"I think the debate is how honest we can be with ourselves with other people. Most of the time we just hurt the other person rather than talk to them. Don't you think a lot of our views of the world are not very clear-minded, that we tend to be thinking from our place of hurt? We're hurt, so we tend to have a more shrunk-down, impoverished view."
This slim collection of just nine stories by Diaz, a writing professor at MIT, succeeds not only because of the author's gift for exploring the nuances of the male experience but because of a writing style that embraces slang and shorthand fluidly, without reading as showy.
Some of these stories are so drenched in swearing and swagger and emotional disregard that on the surface, they don't appear to have anything to do with love, but this collection is as much about that subject as the loss suggested in the book's title.
Diaz's first novel, "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao," was named "#1 Fiction Book of the Year" by Time magazine and spent more than 100 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, establishing itself - with more than a million copies in print - as a modern classic. In addition to the Pulitzer, Díaz has won a host of major awards and prizes, including the National Book Critic's Circle Award, the PEN/Malamud Award, the PEN/O. Henry Prize, the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, and the Anisfield-Wolf Award.
"Heartbreak is one of our great challenges, and enduring it really defines our character," says Diaz.
"My feeling has always been if you're in pain, the only thing that you can do is feel it. If you're overwhelmed by loss, the only thing you can do is be overwhelmed. It's sort of simplistic, but I've never found anything else that worked."