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This is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz

“I’m not a bad guy. I know how that sounds — defensive, unscrupulous — but its true. I’m like everybody else: weak, full of mistakes, but basically good.” So begins Junot Diaz’s latest book, “This is How You Lose her,” a collection of short stories about a foolhardy Dominican named Yunior whose first person narration engages readers with its energy and honesty. Yunior has a problem. He cannot be faithful and his failed exploits with nearly every woman he has dated is the main focal point in these stories. Yunior’s escapades are like a bad reality television show. You know there is nothing to gain, but you can’t help watching because Diaz delivers such well-crafted and complex characters.

As the title, “This is How You Lose Her” implies, the structure of these stories is build by the narration of Yunior’s relationships which have been a series of failures. From the perspective of an educated and older Yunior, we get an honest assessment of just what went wrong while becoming familiar with the interwoven experiences that truly affect Yunior’s life. Including the death of his older brother, Rafa, from cancer and his families’ immigration into the United States from the Dominican Republic. They are devastating in their blunt realism. None more so than “Invierno,” the collection’s most dispiriting story.

Arriving from San Domingo to New Jersey in the starkness of winter, Yunior, along with his mother and older brother Rafa are reunited with a father they have no memory of. “ I had expected a different father, one about seven feet tall with enough money to buy our entire barrio, but this one was average height, with an average face. He’d come to our house in Santo Domingo in a busted-up taxi and the gifts he had brought us were small things — toy guns and tops — that we were too old for ... I didn’t know what to make of him.” It is heartbreaking to witness Yunior’s optimistic illusions about the United States and his new life dissipate. Hope is scarce, as Yunior and his brother spend their first weeks cooped up in the house at their new Papi’s behest, who believes the winter weather is too cold for them. Even when Yunior finally does go out, he is unable to make friends with the white neighbor children.

Diaz’s characterization of Yunior’s mother is even more peerless. “ She cooked our food and then sat there, waiting to wash the dishes. She had no friends, no neighbors to visit. You should talk to me she said, but we told her to wait for Papi to get home.” Diaz brilliantly molds the character of Yunior into one of accessibility and readers are made to empathize with each character.

Yet for readers unfamiliar with Diaz’s work, this book may be more revolting than endearing. Yunior describes his girlfriend Alma, in this way: She “has a long slender horse neck and a big Dominican ass ... that can drag the moon out of orbit.” He is self-absorbed and crude, and his routine objectification of women in his bawdy descriptions of their appearance and his sexual encounters with them may be alienating to his audience. And if readers don’t find Diaz’s explicit sexual content and bleak portrayal of Dominican men disconcerting, they may find his generous use of curse words too much as, almost no sentence is without one.

Still, for readers familiar with Junot Diaz’s work, this collection meets expectations as it is original but reminiscent of Diaz’s other works, such as “Drown” and “The Brief and Wondrous Life Oscar Wao” in which Yunior is a returning character. This collection is so raw and complex; each reader will take away different things, but all with be captivated by Yunior’s endearing bluntness throughout his exploration of identity, culture and social norms. Junot Diaz has created a collection that is more like a journal from a close friend. “ But I am getting ahead of myself. I need to finish by showing you what kind of fool I was,” and just like that, readers are taken in.

By: ALLYSA METZNER