Valyruh’s #CBR4 Review #102: This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz
A powerful book but not for the faint-hearted. Diaz’s deceptively simple, occasionally lyrical, but often brutally crude writing style is sometimes cringe-worthy, but you need to stick with it until the end, because it is only once you have read the last page, closed the book and taken it all in that you suddenly realize that you have just read a complex and profound exploration into that thing called “love.”
Having read Diaz’s “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” a few years ago, the character of Yunior was not too fresh in my mind, but I did remember that he had a real problem with women. And in this new series of inter-linked semi-autobiographical short stories where Yunior (Junot) is the central character in most of them, we begin to penetrate the whys and wherefors. We see him in the present time struggling simultaneously with serious physical ailments and a profound depression over the loss of his fiancé, who tired of his cheating ways and dumped him. We go back in time to look at his impoverished early years as a Dominican immigrant to the U.S., with a philandering and unloving father and a largely oblivious mother who preferred his “no-good” older brother Rafa. We get a poignant close-up of his relationship with Rafa, Yunior’s role model in the form of a good-looking, swaggering, shallow and lustful woman-abuser who eventually suffers a lingering death from cancer while turning his back—literally—on his mother and Yunior. And we watch as Yunior, suffering a combination of resentment and guilt, corrupts his own soul in imitation of Rafa, going through a series of sexual escapades and exploitative relationships where his own self-loathing increasingly rises to the surface.
And then, we begin to see glimpses of redemption and healing. For example, Yunior goes with his friend Elvis back to the Dominican Republic where the married-with-daughters Elvis hopes to scoop up the 2-year-old little boy he fathered during a brief affair there. Desperate for a son, Elvis overlooks what Junior cannot, namely that the child is not his after all, and that the mother’s paternity claim is a poverty-driven scam to wring what money she can from Elvis. Yunior forces his friend to take a paternity test which proves the scam, but is secretly brokenhearted that the child is thereby abandoned to a fatherless and impoverished fate.
While author Diaz bares his soul with in-your-face depictions of the self-hating womanizing behavior he identifies with broken men like Rafa and Yunior, he also offers us a glimpse across the gender divide with unique portraits of the many women, Dominican and otherwise, who cross Yunior’s path, ranging from the submissive women like his mother who turn to the Church as an opiate (“I had my yerba, she had hers”), to the lonely women like the aging Ms. Lora, to the grasping desperate women, to the independent women who have the strength to walk away. Diaz also inserts a lengthy chapter about a young impoverished immigrant woman trapped into the hopeless life of mistress and single motherhood, which breaks the momentum of the Yunior stories but also gives it added depth through this new perspective.
“This is How You Lose Her’ is not about happy endings, but it is about self-awareness and personal growth and, perhaps one day, real love.