Literary musings, and news you can use, with Amye Archer
The Best Book of 2012
I’ve read quite a bit this year — some for school and work, some for pleasure. Each year, however, I like to take the time to reflect upon the books I’ve read and pick my favorite. This year’s choice is simple. The best book I’ve read in 2012 is This is How You Lose Her, the new release by Junot Diaz.
I’ve mentioned this book before in this column. In fact, I’ve mentioned it to almost everyone I know. It’s that kind of book; the kind you can’t stop talking about or thinking about. Diaz is that kind of writer. His previous book, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao won the Pulitzer Prize, so I had no doubt going into this book that it would be something great, something larger than it has any right to be.
This is How You Lose Her is a series of short stories told mostly from the point of view of Yunior, a young Dominican man whose outlook on women leaves much to be desired. The opening story tells of Yunior’s relationship with Magda, a girl he seemingly loves, yet cheats on with another. Magda doesn’t take it well: “She’s sensitive … Takes to hurt the way water takes to paper.” And neither do her friends: “I see one of Magda’s girlfriends … and she treats me like I ate somebody’s favorite kid.” In the end, Yunior loses Magda, which is the beginning of a pattern.
The narrative follows Yunior through adulthood and through bad choice after bad choice. What Diaz does so brilliantly here is to shine his bright light on the Dominican idea of masculinity. According to Diaz, This is How You Lose Her is supposed to be a statement about the Dominican culture, but reading this as an American woman, I found it very relatable. Yunior could easily be swapped out for Shawn, Tom, Joe, Sam or any of the boys of my youth.
Yunior is not a one-dimensional creep, however. Diaz illustrates through a series of events the moments and hardships that have shaped Yunior’s vision of the world. His brother’s death from cancer, his father’s determination to assimilate into New Jersey culture, all of these things make up the core of this complex character and prevent the reader from turning on him.
There are other voices in the book. One story that really drew me in was a tale of Yasmin, a young Dominican woman who comes to New York City to make a better life for herself. Yasmin runs a hospital laundry and is sleeping with a married man who has left his wife and child back in Santa Domingo. This story floats on the promises this man makes and the effort Yasmin puts into believing them. This story shows the sharp contrast between the American dream of yesterday and today.
The last story of the collection illuminates just how little Yunior has learned as he cheats on his fiancée, the love of his life. Diaz has created a complex character in a seemingly easy world. The adage “Be good to those you love,” could easily fix Yunior’s world, yet he seems to cling to the harsh stubbornness that is seemingly ingrained in him.
For the characters, the fantastic dialogue, the strong language and the unforgettable Yunior, This is How You Lose Her is a must read for 2013.
Amye Barrese Archer is a writer and teacher in Scranton. You can read more about her at www.amyearcher.com.