History, Schmistory

(Originally published on The Cheater’s Guide in December 2012)

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Man, I love me a Junot Díaz character. I really, really do: men and women who are so doomed, but also so strong as a result of the island they came from. You get the feeling that they can’t quite help what happens to them. Yet you’re still annoyed, still disappointed when they eventually mess it up because you believe in their humanity, their ability to take control of their lives and somehow stop these cycles of violence and suffering. Yes, you believe in their humanity. But you also believe in their fate. And it is the way in which they try to change, try to escape, try to alter their fate that these characters become real. It is heartbreaking and electrifying. Full of sorrow and humor. Immersed in pain and love.

As is the case with Drown and The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Díaz’s latest work, This Is How You Lose Her creates direct connections between the seemingly disparate worlds of the Dominican Republic and the cities of New Jersey: Paterson, Bergen County, and the like. He extends the flight plan in this collection of short stories to include Michigan and Boston, proving that you can take the boy out of Jersey, but you can’t take Jersey out of the boy. Just like you can’t take the island out of him either. It doesn’t matter if he turns himself into a runner or starts doing yoga, he’s always going to be a sucio, a papi chulo, and that’s always going to be why and how he loses her.

While the title of this collection of shorts suggests a series of directives on how to find oneself without a woman (which it basically is), it also avoids objectifying all of those women and turning them into things better used to tell the stories of a couple of so very troubled, yet ultimately loving men. And this is why, THIS IS WHY, I live for Junot. Because his women are as real as his men, who are as real as the island they flew from, which is as real as the homes in New Jersey they inhabit. All of these things are so connected it hurts. A lot. Which is part—maybe all—of the trouble.

Díaz is no stranger to the causes and effects of History on the men and women whose stories he crafts. That’s essentially all he writes about (which is why I’m kind of obsessed with him). But what I think Junot (if I can call him that/I already did, so why not just get real comfy with it) is so, so, SO good at is acknowledging that History while still respecting his characters’ ability to do something else, to not fall victim, to try a little harder. In The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, we get schooled on History. And that ‘ish is CRAZY. Here, in This Is How You Lose Her, we get the stories that arise in spite of History. History, schmistory: we’re all just a bunch of people with hearts that will no doubt get broken (relax, life does go on) not because of the H-word, or even genetics, as Yunior in “Magda” notes, but because there are reasons: Causalities.

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