This Is How You Lose Her
A few years ago, I read The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and was thoroughly smitten by it. It went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2008, so I can't say I was alone in this opinion. The author, Junot Diaz, has recently had his second collection of short stories ( I didn't read the first collection: Drown) published as This Is How You Lose Her.
The narrator for most of the stories is Yunior, who, like Diaz, was born in the Dominican Republic, moved to New Jersey as a child and is a college professor in the Boston area. On the way to his present life, Yunior has left behind a trail of women that he cheated, betrayed and lied to, almost obsessively. Yunior also appeared in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and many critics consider him to be Diaz' alter-ego.
The short, interconnected stories in This Is How You Lose Her are not all about his disastrous relationships with women; several are about his family. The stories about family I found to be particularly affecting; two of them are about his very troubled relationship with his older brother Rafa, who is dying of cancer. While as a young boy he adores his older brother, the relationship becomes a mix of love and hatred as Rafa becomes increasingly shut down and emotionally unavailable to his brother and mother. The stories also give us great characters in Yunior's Mami and Papi.
All the stories give us a slice of life in the neighborhoods of the transplanted Dominicans. Diaz writes in the language of the streets he grew up on; frequently interjecting Dominican phrases and words into his story at which the approximate meaning of, this reader could only guess. His copious use of the F-word and N-word might be offensive to some readers, although I felt it added validity to the frequentconversations Yunior has with his "boys". Later, when Yunior is living in Boston and teaching at a university, he completely nails that city's deeply ingrained racist tendencies with funny/sad anecdotes about run-ins with police and campus security as he goes about his job teaching at the university.
The stories that Yunior tells us about women he has failed with are, although ultimately heartbreaking, also witty, self-deprecating looks at Yunior as a man...a man most readers would most likely feel needs a good slap upside the head. And he receives those slaps (at least figuratively) from woman after woman after woman as he is repeatedly caught cheating and lying and still, somehow never learning the ultimate lessons in life about faithfulness and commitment.
After each of these relationships ends, Yunior berates and criticizes himself, seldom laying blame on any of the women. He admires them and understands their decisions to leave him behind as he avows to be a better man...and fails.
The last story, "The Cheater's Guide to Love", is, I think, one of the the most affecting of the entire collection. In it, Yunior records the ruination of his most recent relationship that has ended after six years. Why? Because the woman he loves and is actually engaged to, has discovered that over the last six years he has cheated with over fifty (50!!) women. These facts are all revealed to the reader in the first few sentences of this last story. After the break-up, Yunior slips into a truly depressed state of mind and suddenly all the sorrow and heartbreak he has caused comes homes to roost, and it hurts. The remainder of the story is broken into the next five years as Yunior attempts to slowly recover and rebuild his life, alone. He is a writer who hasn't written anything in a very long time, and finally, one day he writes the name of his ex followed by "the half-life of love never ends." And that's the beginning.
As an engaging glimpse into the human heart and the complexities of all types of love, This Is How You Lose Her is beautifully complete.