I Can See Why

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.

How I Found Oscar Wao

Sometimes, the journey towards finding a good book is simple.  A friend, whose opinion you trust, says, “Here.  Read this, it’s really quite good.”  Other times you get lucky and find a good one at the bookstore by picking something you’ve never heard of but which looks interesting.  Yet other times you find a great one by ignoring the old adage and judging the book by its cover.  Some cover art is really fantastic, after all.  And still other times, the journey is somewhat convoluted.  I had never heard of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao until about a month ago, despite it having been published in ’07 and having subsequently won the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Literature.  So, note to future self, here’s how I found it.

I was reading the Fall issue of Weird Tales and it had an interview with young author Lauren Groff in it about her first and new book The Monsters of Templeton.  That book sounded interesting so I picked it up from the library and read it on vacation.  Loved it.  Sometime in January, I reviewed it for my church’s newsletter.  Sometime later I was asked to make a few recommendations to a colleague group of mine for an avocational book study we could do – basically since we’re serious all the time (some more than others) we wanted to talk about something fun like a novel, but that still might inform our daily lives, work, and vocation.  Yes, the avocational can inform the vocational.  So, the first book I put on my list of three recommendeds was Groff’s Monsters.  When I looked it up on Amazon to get some info on it, I noted, as I usually do the “If you like this, then try this” section.  And guess what, Barnes’ Somnambulist was there.  So I looked at the Amazon entry for it as well.  On its recommended section it had The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.  But I didn’t look at it.  I was more interested in the other listing, Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s Shadow of the Wind.  On its page, it also recommended Brief Wondrous Life.  But, I decided for my three books to recommend to the colleague group, I’d go with Monsters, Somnambulist, and Shadow.  But I couldn’t escape Brief Wondrous Life.

When I went to the bookstore to browse it popped out off the shelf at me.  I looked at it, noted it won some awards, and put it down.  When I was at the library, I saw that it was the topic of their book study group.  I tried to check it out.  All taken.  All on hold.  So, I ignored it for a while once again.  Then I read about it on a blog I like.  So I finally went out and bought the damn thing.  And now I’m glad I did, because all that finding and ignoring has kinda hyped it up for me.  Then I discovered the story is about a Tolkien, D&D nerd who’s under a curse called a fukú (which looks like “fuck you” in txt language.)  For crying out loud in the first pages he refers to Trujillo as Sauron!  Yes, I think I’ll like this story, even if it portends to be tragic.

I’m glad I found my way to it, somehow.