041: This Is How You Lose Her
This Is How You Lose Her 4/5
It seems that in the modern world successful storytelling has to come as part of a planned, or at least the intention, or a three or more part series. While this may not be true of quote unquote literature, it has become relatively standard fare for sci-fi, fantasy, romance, and of course the ubiquitous teen fiction. All of this seems to be slowly eradicating the world of stories that simply happen to fall into the same universe a la Tom Clancy’s novels or Terry Pratchet’s Discworld series. Now it seems everything has to be Part One, Part Two, Part Three etc, demanding dogmatic adherence to progressing a singular story line with a static main character and a relatively constant supporting cast. Don’t take this to mean that all serialized fiction is terrible (it’s not), and it has done great things especially in the realm of increasing readership amongst young people. So maybe all of this is why I liked Junot Diaz’s newest book so much.
This Is How You Lose Her returns stylistically to Diaz’s first book Drown in that it is a collection of smaller pieces of story instead of one long continuous narrative as we saw in The Brief Wonderous Life Of Oscar Wao. [Sidebar: You’ll notice I’m going to talk about these books like you’ve already read them, because you should have. And if you haven’t, then get on it you heathens.] The similarities continue through the fact that even though you’re reading several vignettes that seem scattered at first, by the end you realize that you’ve actually been reading a loosely collaborated story that follows a meandering and sometimes maddening time line. It’s one of the things I love about the book. You never get too much at once, and you never stay rooted in one place long enough to get bored with what you’re reading. Don’t be misled though, This Is How You Lose Her is by no means a collection of short stories and essays in the vein of something like Sedaris’ Me Talk Pretty One Day. Rather, it’s a delicate breaking up and rearranging of the pieces that somehow distorts without mangling the original idea.
Now, you may be wondering what any of this has to do with my diatribe about serialized fiction from earlier. This Is How You Lose Her has created a serialization through continuity. Mind you, I use those terms loosely. The reason for this is that Oscar Wao clearly grew, if not directly, from the stories that made up Drown. Now This Is How You Lose Her directly stems from Oscar Wao as it follows the narrator as his life falls apart in the time following the end of telling Oscar’s story. The beauty of it is that each of these works entirely as an independent piece, but when you’ve read all of them it creates an immense world teeming with people instead of characters who are both naturally memorable and intentionally forgettable.
Diaz’s newest work is not nearly as emotional and complex as his previous Pulitzer Prize winner, but in a way that’s a good thing. It is moving in its brevity and briskness, and there is a detached tone born of world weary-ness that seems to try and insulate the reader from the persistent heart-ache of the stories. I wholeheartedly recommend this book, especially to people who are already fans of Diaz as well as for those who are new to his work.