Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Book #4: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

Lately, I have been so focused on determining what a writer's obligations are to a reader, I have neglected to address what the reader's expectations are. I've been looking at this project from a writer's eyes, and neglecting the reader's perspective. I have been so fixated on defining what the writer's job is that I fear I've neglected addressing how this relates to the reader's expectations. Through this, I am learning a lot about myself not only as a writer but as a reader.

Here's the deal with Oscar Wao:

In the eighth grade, I was homely beyond homely. 5' 9" tall, 100 pounds soaking wet with braces, glasses, and an unfortunate haircut (I think I was going for punk rock but it wound up instead as a sort of poodle mullet). Anyway...I knew that no one was going to ask me to the eighth grade graduation dance, and so I took matters into my own hands. I decided to shoot high and asked the most popular boy in the eighth grade. He was a new kid, a basketball player, and had perfectly feathered hair. And, for some unknown reason, he said YES. So the night of the dance came. I got a new dress and high heeled white sandals to match. He showed up with a corsage. I swooned. At the dance, we danced two slow songs (I thought I would die then and there from happiness) and then he put his arm around me as we sat huddled in the corner with all the other couples. I had never felt so blissed out in my entire thirteen years of life. He politely excused himself at some point to get some water, and I sat grinning (I was in. I had a date!) amongst the other couples. I sat. And grinned. And waited. And waited. He never came back. And I was stuck, sitting with all these happy pairs alone for the next two hours until my dad came to pick me up.

This book is just like that boy. I was enticed by the reviews, the Pulitzer win, the recommendation of several readers I trust. But the date was a bomb. Here's why:

While the book purports to be about Oscar Wao (you'd think from that title anyway), but it's not. It's about Oscar, his mother, his sister, and his friend (and narrator) Yunior. It's also about Trujillo's reign of terror in the Dominican Republic. While all of these stories are interesting, the tragedy of Oscar's life doesn't resonate, because I didn't get to spend enough time with him to even begin to care about him.

The Diaspora it continually addresses is (ironically or intentionally?) replicated by the incredible and willful inaccessibility of the prose, which is littered with Dominican slang as well as obscure comic book and Japanese anime references. I read the entire novel with my laptop open to a website which kindly offered annotations. (I hadn't seen as many annotations since The Divine Comedy in college.) The entire book made me feel like an outsider, that poor ugly girl sitting alone at the dance after the boy ditched me. Diaz ditched me!

The narrator. Man, he's an ass. He's flippant, he's sexist, and he does nothing but disparage his culture and people. I couldn't stand him. I also felt like I couldn't trust him, because he seemed more omniscient (read, authorial) than a genuine character. See where I'm headed with this?

So anyway, I leave this book, like I left the eighth grade graduation dance that night. Disappointed and a little pissed.

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