Review of This Is How You Lose Her – Junot Diaz
I rated this book 4 out of 5 stars.
The book consists of a series of interconnected short stories that form the novel about Yunior and his loves. The first story was startling in its direct and character-driven barrio language peppered with Spanish and obscenities. I wondered whether I even could finish the novel, as the way in which Yunior looks at women and is out for one thing only–sex–put me off.
Reading on, I got hooked in and continued reading the story about Yunior’s older brother, Rafa, and how he eventually died. It was clear that it would end badly for big brother. This story, as well as each next story defied any stereotype I might have had about anything, and the unique perspective of the protagonist is fascinating. The book gave a glance into a world that a middle class, boomer woman like me has not experienced, although I suspected there were men like Yunior: the man you don’t want to meet.
Yunior’s family moved from the Dominican Republic to the US, New Jersey, when the brothers are of primary school age. Their dad keeps them indoors at first, much like people with cats do after a move, so they will stay and not run back to their former home. Dad thinks the boys must acquire a sense of place and change their ways from their routines back home, such as pee wherever, or take a dump behind a bush when they had to go. For the first time they have a bathroom and running water for that purpose. Otherwise, Yunior’s dad is an absent figure for much of the rest of the stories.
The novel is mostly narrated in the second person, which gives it a feeling of jocularity. Each story reveals successively more about Yunior and his family, drawing the reader in. A common theme seems to be the search for love and company. These stories give a rather bleak picture of life in his neighbourhood, as Yunior goes through his adolescence and feels like an outsider. The family finances are very limited while the boys are raised by their mom.
The disclosures of Yunior’s views and his acts of betrayal perpetrated on the many women in his world are fascinating, but also raises a feeling of desperation, and aversion to the man. The women in turn are preying on Yunior for god knows what–security or maybe love, to combat the fundamental loneliness–in the act of sex.
There’s a lot of cheating going on once Yunior’s sexual appetites were sparked.
Yunior’s was so “lucky” to have a controversial relationship with an older woman as a high school student that he carries as a secret with him. He seemed to have loved this woman, and she functioned somewhat as a mother to him, but when he starts a serious relationship with a girl in college, he ends the relationship with this older woman, Lora. (The point is this woman was one of his high school teachers and would have been criminally liable had he disclosed this fact that set the stage for his sexual life).
When he meets a woman whom he really loves and admires, I am rooting for him in the hope that he has seen the light and will change his ways and bond with a woman–his equal, but no such luck. As the dog he really is, he cannot pass up a good opportunity and the cheating continues, even after he and this marvellous woman get engaged. Of course this ends badly, but I won’t give away too much of the story.
The novel is spellbinding: one needs to keep on reading to get the drama of this one man, in spite of the off-putting language that perfectly presents Yunior’s thoughts in all its misogynistic flavour. Yunior could stand in for all men that make their conquests with women central to their existence, which represents their sense of power regardless of other successes in their life.
I am not sure what might be at the basis of this need to assert himself with women. There are many men that fall from grace in our society due to their inability to keep their penis in their pants; recent examples are recalled easily. Generally this type of conduct is based in low self esteem, possibly caused by frequent degradation and emotional neglect by their mom, or another main caregiver when young. Then parental role models finish off our imprints, for life.
As an immigrant, I do recognize the protagonist’s wish to fit in and not be discriminated against; as a child being ostracised is even worse. It hurts and can cause deep scars. The mainstream population does not have that experience and does often not realize their hurtful words and deeds. Especially when colour also comes into the picture, self-hate is often the result of unchecked discrimination. Often, one racial group in turn then discriminates or looks down on another racial group–oppression begets oppression.
This is not an easy novel of slightly over 200 pages, although a quick read. The stories combined read like a memoir. Much of it seems to be somewhat autobiographical or at least inspired by the author’s own life: Yunior has a similar background as the author in terms of Latin heritage, his calling as a writer and his profession as an Creative Writing professor.
I can see why it was recognized as a unique and award winning novel. Right from the beginning and throughout most of the novel it appears that Yunior is the predator. Then he ends up as the prey of that elusive and often abusive thing called unrequited, or lost love.
I could not give it 5 stars as I felt repelled by its aggressive and demeaning language, although I understand it was authentic to the main character’s internal world.
If you have a man in your life that needs to read this tale of how one could squander love: this is the gift for him.
If you are a woman that easily lets herself be lulled into believing a man’s declarations of love: you need to read this novel.
If you are a man who plays fast and loose with women’s love and seek many sexual encounters, you must read this book.
If you are an immigrant longing to fit in, you need to read this novel.
If you liked this review, “Like” this on Facebook, or comment below.