Yunior is a sucio, a cuero, a cheater. We’re given fair warning: do not expect much in the way of morals from this man. In “The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars” – the first story in Junot Díaz’s collection This Is How You Lose Her – we see Yunior in the tailspin of a relationship, brought down by his chronic infidelity:
“I’m not a bad guy … I’m like everybody else: weak, full of mistakes, but basically good. Magdalena disagrees though … I cheated on her with this chick who had tons of eighties free-style hair. Didn’t tell Magda about it, either … A smelly bone like that, better off buried in the backyard of your life.”
Like the anti-hero of any Roth or Updike novel, Yunior reminds us constantly, he’s not a bad guy. But there’s so much more to Díaz’s collection that a guy who can’t seem to sort his adulthood out. Díaz has brought back the narrator of his Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, and his first collection Drown. Injected with a cultural energy that Roth and Updike never seemed to quite grasp, This is How You Lose Her follows Yunior through moments in his childhood and then tracks him to a decidedly dysfunctional adulthood.
It’s the story of a young kid on the block who just doesn’t get women, surrounded by the context of the Caribbean Diaspora.
A story punctuated by the thread of an older brother filled with machismo and plagued with cancer: You should have seen him those days, he had the face bones of a saint.
Díaz follows Yunior sporadically through Rutgers and Harlem, trips back to Santo Domingo, all the way to Cambridge where Yunior is a professor at Harvard. The stories of Yunior’s adolescence, then, are punctuated abruptly by the realization of what he’s become. A successful man by professional and cultural accounts, but still a sucio, a cheater, filled with a depression “so profound you doubt there is a name for it. It feels like you’re being slowly pincered apart, atom by atom.” Díaz leaves you on a note of uncertain pain, but it’s not unsatisfying.
Díaz writes this portrait of a cheating man in his delicious prose style that is simultaneously syncopated and fluid in its beat. You could call it Spanglish, the term is hardly fitting. Slang-lish, perhaps, as many of the Spanish words could only be translated with the help of some kind of Spanish—New Jerseyan—English UrbanDictionary:
“Dude was figureando hard. Had always been a papi chulo, so of course he dove right back into the grip of his old sucias, snuck them down into the basement whether my mother was home or not.”
But Díaz is fluent in many languages: English, Spanish, nerd-dom, drug culture, the academy. He throws down five dollar words like “atavistic” as if they’re spare change. Yunior turns phrases like “the half-life of love is forever,” then shoots out every four-letter word, every insult in the Spanish/English arsenal.
This freestyle, Díaz’s fluid hybridization of language, might prove too much for some readers. But Díaz does not mean to dazzle and blind the reader with his breadth of language. Rather, Díaz’s prose style elevates his actual words as dynamics and tempo would a symphony.
A saga of love and infidelity,This Is How You Lose Her is character study masquerading as short story. Yunior is simply a character worth visiting and revisiting. And through this cheating bastard, this good man sucio, Díaz navigates the larger themes of diaspora, disease and displacement, keeping to the pounding rhythm and fluid cadence of Yunior’s life.
- Meaghan Murphy, Staff Writer