After finishing Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao I can see why it won the Pulitzer Prize. At the end I felt like I wanted to or should cry, but I could not. The story was tragic – crying point numero uno. And I was terribly sad it was over, both the book and the life of Oscar Wao – crying point numero dos. It was a fascinating read – I appreciated how Diaz just went ahead and assumed I knew very little about DR politics and explained the necessary parts in sometimes lengthy footnotes, making use of all kinds of other references some of which I got, some of which I didn’t. And although it was frustrating at times, I am somewhat glad I didn’t get all the Spanish either – it served as another layer of separation between me and a life I’m so thankful I never led. I don’t know if that was the intention or not.
I was surprised that Oscar Wao figured very little into the story actually. It was more about his family as a whole, he just being the focal point for a lot of bad shit. Well, come to think of it, that isn’t even true. They all experienced plenty of bad shit. Plenty. It was almost like the paths laid out for some of these characters, Oscar’s Mother chief among them, were unavoidable. Their pathologies, perfect at guiding them towards those dark areas they knew full well they should have avoided, but dammit, they weren’t going to listen to sense. Because sense came from the adult voices, and these teens were just like any others. The problem is, their mistakes weren’t as forgiving as say mine were.
I really liked Oscar’s dialogue, again, of which there was surprisingly little. Diaz managed to really communicate a personality through it that was unique and perfect for the character. Lines like (this one coming in Oscar’s college days, as he’s lying in bed at night trying not to think about the fact that he’s still a virgin, he ruminates out loud to his playboy roommate): “Do you think that if we were orcs, at least at a racial level, we’d imagine ourselves to look like elves?” I didn’t know whether to laugh out loud, scoff, or weep. At least in part because I’ve said stuff like that plenty of times, but at least I considered my audience. Trouble with Oscar was, he roommate, Yunior, was his only audience. And despite Yunior’s flaws, I found him to be somewhat heroic. How he agreed to room with Oscar and try and teach him. He saw something in Oscar that no else but his sister saw, and maybe not even her. He saw the capactity to be somebody – and that’s something we all need.
This is a real gem of (semi?)American literature. The kind of book that’ll be studied one day I think. And any author that can pull that off with their first novel is worth following. I really can’t stop thinking about this story. It’s so good.