Saturday, December 8, 2012

Short Story Saturday: This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz

Welcome to Short Story Saturday, a returning semi-regular feature. The project stems from a desire to read more short stories. It's not a secret I prefer novels to short stories, but I'm working to stretch myself as a reader, and part of that will be reading more short stories. When I have read short story collections, I've often found them hard to review as a whole. This feature will allow me to review collections as a whole or separately, but I'll also be reviewing individual stories.

The backstory: This Is How You Lose Her, the second story collection from Pulitzer Prize for Fiction winner Junot Diaz, was a finalist for the 2012 National Book Award. Update: it was also a finalist for the 2013 Carnegie Medal.

The basics: This Is How You Lose Her is a somewhat thematic story collection. The stories are all about love or a relationship to some extent. Most of the stories are narrated by Yunior, the narrator of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (my review.)

My thoughts: After enjoying the writing in Oscar Wao, I was curious how I'd fare with Diaz's stories. I'm more drawn to story collections united by theme, and I had high hopes. I don't consider myself a super fan of Junot Diaz. He's a strong writer, but I appreciate his talent more than I enjoy his output. This Is How You Lose Her is no exception.

My favorite story in this collection was "Otravita, Otravez." It's the first story not narrated by Yunior, which was initially jarring. After a few pages, I had to revise my expectations. While part of the story's strength was its uniqueness, the story itself had was emotionally haunting. In many ways it falls in line with the rest of the collection: it's a love story, albeit one laced with sadness, and a tale of immigrants. What sets it apart most of all, however, is having a female narrator. It was refreshing and unexpected.

Part of what hindered my personal enjoyment of this collection was Yunior. I'm not a reader who needs characters to be likable, but Yunior makes himself incredibly difficult to like or even understand. Despite narrating most of these stories, the collection didn't feel cohesive to me.

Favorite passage:  "My heart is beating and I think, We could do anything. We could marry. We could drive off to the West Coast. We could start over. It's all possible but neither of us speaks for a long time and the moment closes and we're back in the world we've always known." (from "Nilda")

The verdict: "Nilda" and "Otravita, Otravez" were the highlights of this collection for me. Both stories are the outliers of the collection. Fans of Junot Diaz will welcome this collection, but I found myself wishing for more of those surprising stories.

Rating: 3 out of 5
Length: 224 pages
Publication date: September 11, 2012
Source: library

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy This Is How You Lose Her from an independent bookstore, the Book Depository or Amazon (Kindle version.)

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  1. I listened to this recently (still need to write a review!) and was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. Diaz reading his own words added to the experience. I downloaded Oscar Wao and hope to listen before too long.

    1. JoAnn, I'll be curious to hear how it was on audio.

  2. I listened to the audio and the author reading it himself added a dimension. I would not have heard the same voice in my head if I read it in print. Although I do enjoy short stories, this was not my type of book and I couldn't relate to a lot of it... but I did enjoy experiencing a culture different from my own.

    1. Leslie, I like the cultural immersion too, and I'm starting to wonder if the language would have felt more fluid on audio.

  3. I've been hearing a lot about both of his novels, and I really want to read them. Your favorite passage is so moving, and it just brings to mind all of those moments when you feel invincible for a minute and then back to normal, almost sad that the special moment has passed.

    1. Rebecca--it's such a great passage. I seem to be in the minority about the book as a whole, but Diaz is definitely an author worth exploring, even if (like me) you don't quite love him.


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