Sunday, October 25, 2009

Reader's Diary #537- Junot Diaz: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Do you know that feeling you get when you think about exercising? The do I have to feeling? Even though, without fail, once you get to that gym, or hop on that bike, or swim that lap, you feel awesome.

Such was the case with Junot Diaz's The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. For some reason, I procrastinated every night in picking up this novel. Yet, once I did, I-- for the most part-- enjoyed it.

Oscar is a on overweight Dominican-American nerd who, not surprisingly, can't find love.

The voice, quite possibly the strongest feature of the book, was infectious (even if, on the rare occasion, I questioned if it wasn't over-the-top). Narrated not by Oscar, but mostly by Yunior, an ex-roommate and friend of Oscar, readers are bombarded with science fiction and fantasy references and a great deal of untranslated Spanish phrases. It would be next to impossible to understand everything Yunior has to say, but I think it would be a waste of time if the publishers added a glossary or if readers consulted a Spanish-English dictionary every time a Spanish word was thrown in. It's remarkable but the story is comprehensible despite all that. Perhaps it's a way of suggesting that Oscar's nerdish leanings or Dominican heritage isn't as important as his humanity.

But the Dominican heritage is important to the book. As one of the few Canadians that has not yet visited there in the middle of our dark, cold winters, I know little about the Dominican Republic. I quite enjoyed learning of the culture and history of the place, especially as Diaz avoided making it a dry lesson. Much of it told through footnotes, Yunior seems to blame Oscar's family's misfortunes on the fuku, a curse brought about when the dictator Trujillo blamed his grandfather for treason (and yes, fuku is pronounced as you'd think). Much then, of the Dominica 101, comes wrapped in this entertaining tale.

The plot, however, leaves a lot to be desired. It's slow, predictable, and not all that original even if the context is. Perhaps that's where the exercise-feeling came from. I was never really eager to pick it up to see what would happen next, even though I appreciated his writing style and setting.


Barbara Bruederlin said...

Perhaps the fact that the awesome feeling which exercise brings does not necessarily come to me without fail makes me hesitant to put this novel on my must read book. Oh and that huge bedside pile of ones that I have yet to read.

Megan said...

I've nominated this blog for Best Culture & Literature Blog in the Canadian Blog Awards. I hope that's OK. If it's not, please let me know and I'll get in touch with the organizers.

Lisa said...

Hmm. So this is in Mt. TBR but it doesn't sound like one I'm going to be in a rush to move to the top of the heap.

Teddy Rose said...

I also had a hard time picking up this book each time. I thought about not finishing it but in the end I did. Here's my review in case your interested: