Tuesday, September 4, 2007


Yes! I have been waiting for this book since December 2000, when a story called "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao" appeared in the New Yorker. I liked the previous Junot Diaz stories I'd read, but this blew Drown out of the water, bursting with bravado and heart and breaking all kinds of rules. I was in my first semester at the Iowa Writers' Workshop, where many of my classmates liked to formulate you-can'ts about all kinds of narrative strategies--you can't switch tense! you can't shift point of view! you can't leave this track unresolved! ("Can you ask them if they've ever read fiction?" my girlfriend in New York commented), so the pleasure of reading this raucous, tumbling, cussing, unwieldy, POV-shuffling thing, featuring one particular sentence that took up a full column and a half without stopping, thrilled me. I made copies of it and for the past seven years it's been the literary equivalent of that one song you always put on mix tapes. Friends, students, colleagues, woo-ees: they all get it from me.

This part comes about halfway in:
The first time I met Oscar was at Rutgers. We were roommates our sophomore year, cramped up in Demarest, the university's official homo dorm, because Oscar wanted to be a writer and because I'd pulled the last number in the housing lottery. You never met more opposite niggers in your life. He was a dork, totally into Dungeons & Dragons and comic books; he had like a billion science-fiction paperbacks, all in his closet; and me, I was into girls, weight lifting, and Danocrine. .... Those were the Boricua Posse days, and I never got home before six in the morning, so mostly what I saw of Oscar was a big, dormant hump crashed out under a sheet. When we were in the dorm together, he was either working on his novel or talking on the phone to his sister, who I'd seen a few times at Douglass. (I'd tried to put a couple of words on her because she was no joke in the body department, but she cold-crumbed me.) Those first months, me and my boys ragged on Oscar a lot--I mean, he was a nerd, wasn't he?--and right before Halloween I told him he looked like that fat homo Oscar Wilde, which was bad news for him, because then all of us started calling him Oscar Wao. The sad part? After a couple of weeks, he started answering to it.

Besides me fucking with him, we never had no problems; he never got mad at me when I said shit, just sat there with a hurt stupid smile on his face. Made a brother feel kinda bad, and after the others left, I would say, You know I was just kidding, right? By second semester, I even started to like the kid a little. Wasn't it Turgenev who said, Whom you laugh at you forgive and come near to loving?
The mix of slang and literary reference and Spanglish and comic books (Marvel and Daniel Clowes) sucked me in, but what I loved most about the story was the raw vulnerability beneath all the bluster and fast talk: people dying to, and for, love. But that was it. Nothing else from Diaz, at all. All I had was this photocopy from the New Yorker. Finally this June, another Junot Diaz story appeared: "Wildwood." And instantly I recognized Lola the sister, and lo, there was Oscar himself, and, joy, an author bio snippet that mentioned a whole book. Here it is! (Michiko Kakutani loves it.)

Thursday! I'm on it!
This is, like, my Harry Potter.
Also, Diaz comes to Powell's on September 25.

No comments: