Book Review:  This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz

I read and enjoyed Diaz’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao when I was still living in Greece shortly before I moved back to the United States in 2012. It has taken me this long to get around to another Diaz offering, the short story collection: This Is How You Lose Her. The main character in the stories, most of which are told either in first person or second person, is Diaz’s autobiographical alter-ego Yunior. As the title of the book promises, the stories mainly deal with Yunior’s multitudinous affairs; each story features a different woman and his relationship with her. As constants in the background are Yunior’s relationships with his mother and with his older brother, who becomes debilitated and then dies of cancer.

Diaz is a virtuoso with language, and the stories abound in English street dialect with a lot of expletives, graphic sexual descriptions, and interjections in Spanish. This is all part of what makes them work. They are composed in a sort of rough, abrasive prose poetry that is beautiful in its own idiosyncratic way.

I think my favorite story in the collection is the last one, “The Cheater’s Guide to Love,” because it presents the most comprehensive picture of Yunior. His girlfriend, who he sincerely loves, finds out he has been cheating on her and breaks up with him. He begins to have all sorts of physical ailments. On top of that, he has trouble with his teaching job, with his writing, and with racist Bostonians shouting insults at him. He attempts to strike up relationships with other women but they don’t go well. In the end, his redemption comes as he begins to effectively write again, and the writing helps to exorcise his despair. He considers that the writing “feels like hope, like grace,” and that “sometimes a start is all we ever get.” I can empathize with those sentiments. Sometimes the writing is the only thing that pulls me through too.

As for the stories about the women in Yunior’s life, they caused me to think back and recall the various women I have known and loved. Oddly enough, or perhaps serendipitously enough, I was considering writing stories based on some of my past relationships just before I found this book on the library shelf. Before I met the woman I would marry and raise five sons with, there were several relationships I would call extraordinary and that involved real love. At those times, though, the circumstances simply weren’t right to continue in the long term. In writing about his ephemeral past relationships, Diaz is able to tap into profound emotional veins that are sometimes sweet, sometimes bitter, sometimes painful, sometimes confusing, and sometimes irresolvable. Just like in real life. Stories don’t always have happy endings, and sometimes wounds don’t quickly heal. Sometimes the only answer is to pick yourself up and try to keep carrying on somehow. For writers, the act of writing serves that purpose.

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