Junot Diaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

This book got some serious praise last year, especially from the inimitable Tim at Baby Got Books, from whom I received the book long enough ago that I'm embarrassed not to have read it before now: Junot Diaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Tim's review is longer and more positive than mine, so make sure you read it - I do love a passionate review, and you're not getting one from me this time.

But that certainly doesn't mean I'm coming down against this novel, far from it. It's just so, so far from being my kind of thing, though, that I'm not sure how much sense I can make of it - or (God save me) how much I really want to make out of it. Complicated to explain. It's facile to say that since I'm a heck of a lot more repressed than any one of Diaz' characters, I have real trouble finding the energy to embed myself imaginatively into their story. Actually this answer feels not just facile but wrong, even though I don't have a better answer to give you.

Maybe if I knew some Dominicans, if I had an inch of the confidence necessary to be a playa, if I had a body worth prizing, etc etc? I'm seriously impressed by Diaz' characters and language, and by his intricate bundling of Dominican history into the mythology of Oscar's own family. Diaz gives us something new and valuable by merging a Dungeons & Dragons sensibility with high-end literary fiction; it's an inspired move. This novel is a legit entrant into the Latin-American pantheon, no lying, and yes, I'm very much aware of how highly prized novels from that part of the world are, since I love many of them myself.

In other words, stylistically the novel has strengths to burn - but I ended up not caring all that much about it. Oscar as a character reminded me of Oskar Matzerath, the narrator and core character in Gunter Grass' The Tin Drum, complete with strange physiology and sexual obsessions. Same reading experience for me, actually: I definitely think both novels deserve a wide readership and critical acclaim, but I'm just not the right reader.

Mind you, I didn't care that much about Spook Country either, so there may be something in the water around here....


Anonymous said…
Thanks for the plug, Richard - and I'm totally imitable.

I have to admit that I haven't read The Tin Drum, so I can't comment on your comparison of Osc/kars.

I'm glad that you got to it, even if you didn't like it as much as I did. It happens.
richard said…
I don't have the energy to imit you, so it's better for my psyche to consider you inimitable :-)

Maybe I'm just a prude. Too much booty in it for this book really to compute....
sexy said…
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