Book Review: This is How You Lose Her, By Junot Diaz

Infidelity is a major theme of Junot Diaz’s 2012 short story collection, This is How You Lose Her. If this was merely a recitation of the different ways in which men cheat on their women–and there’s a lot of that in the nine stories–it would be pretty unremarkable. But Diaz offers much more than A Cheater’s Guide to Love, the title of the last story.

Many of the stories center on Yunior, the character Diaz introduced in his earlier short story volume, Drown, and reprised in his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Yunior, often described as Diaz’s alter ego, is a wonderful character–a young man who wants to do right, but is caught between his upbringing and his internal moral compass.

In Yunior’s world, the men cheat on their women. He watched his father, Papi, cheat on his mother, and his brother, Rafa, cheat on women, often in the bedroom the brothers shared. In “Miss Lora” Yunior as a teen ponders this as he lusts after an older woman. “You had hoped the gene missed you, skipped a generation, but clearly you were kidding yourself.” These little asides to the reader, as if he is a confidante of the character, are a hallmark of Diaz’s work.

What gives these stories of heartbreak and betrayal buoyancy is Diaz’s shimmering prose, a unique blend of scintillating narrative, Spanglish and street lingo. Diaz writes with an energy and intimacy that keeps the reader invested in the story.

“Invierno,” one of the best stories, describes the arrival of Yunior’s family from the Dominican Republic to a gritty urban locale in northern New Jersey. Papi won’t let Yunior or his older brother, Rafi, leave their small apartment, but toward the end of the story, their mom takes them out during a snowstorm, viewing things they’d never seen in their homeland. “We even saw the ocean, up there at the top of Westminster, like the blade of a long,curved knife. Mami was crying but we pretended not to notice. We even threw snowballs at the sliding cars and once I removed my cap just to feel the snowflakes scatter across my cold, hard scalp.”

The collection ends with a story in which Yunior has an epiphany. Cheating on a woman he truly loved, Yunior’s heart burns when she breaks up with him. It takes him years and he still is not over her. And that’s when he realizes, in Diaz’s beautiful words, “The half-life of love is forever.”

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