The characters in Junot Díaz’s new story collection, _This is How You Lose Her_, are broken. Broken by disintegrating relationships, broken by sickness, broken by love, or some combination of the three. That’s not to say, however, that Díaz’s prose lacks humor – the lyricism of his writing is often tempered by his use of macho Dominican slang. Thus, though each story represents, in one sense or another, an ode to the repeated death and rebirth of love, the virtuosity of Díaz’s voice keeps all potential sappiness at bay.
Many of the stories in the collection are told from the point of view of the protagonist Yunior – a young and self-described sucio, or “cheater,” from New York City. Though Yunior detests his own infidelity and begs the reader to forgive him for cheating on the many women he loves, he cannot suppress his desire to philander.
Yunior’s tone of apology is evident from the first sentences of the book: “I’m not a bad guy. I know how that sounds—defensive, unscrupulous—but it’s true. I’m like everybody else: weak, full of mistakes, but basically good.” His lover Magdalena disagrees, considering him “a typical Dominican man: a sucio, an asshole.” However, by the end of the book, Yunior has proved that he is indeed “not a bad guy.“ In fact, he’s tortured by his own tendency to betray, and haunted by the death of his older brother Rafa. Díaz makes it clear that he is a far more intricate character than a thoughtless, selfish sucio, but leaves it to readers to decide for themselves whether or not to forgive Yunior.
Díaz employs first-person narration to tell Yunior’s story, but at times he situates the reader directly at the center of the plot’s action by shifting the voice to the second person. In a moment where Yunior describes how he feels about Rafa’s death, for example, he addresses the reader directly: “Your brother. Dead now a year and sometimes you feel a fulgurating sadness over it even though he really was a super asshole at the end.” Though Rafa was never particularly kind to Yunior, he is the reason Yunior plays women, as Yunior’s reverence for his brother is evident. “You should have seen him in those days,” Yunior tells the reader, “he had the face bones of a saint…I had an IQ that would have broken you in two but I would have traded it in for a halfway decent face in a second.” Despite his angelic looks, however, Rafa is the biggest sucio of all the book’s characters, and it is clear that Yunior mimics his older brother in his behavior with women. With this knowledge of Rafa’s influence, we are less inclined to devolve full blame onto Yunior for his infidelity.
_This is How You Lose Her_ is a quick read – easy to fit into pockets of time you wouldn’t have spent on homework anyway. Díaz’s prose reveals love and emotion without your even realizing it; until you reach the final page of the book and feel, in Yunior’s own words, “like someone flew a plane into your soul.” You won’t be disappointed by picking up Junot Díaz’s latest book – in life as in his writing, Díaz does not give hope where none exists, and his tough prose gets to you deep at the same time that it is highly entertaining.