Books

Heartbreak Beat

Junot Díaz's This Is How You Lose Her

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JUNOT DÍAZ IS BEST KNOWN—best read, best loved—for 2007's sprawling The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Set next to that massive novel, his new story collection This Is How You Lose Her looks slight. Don't, though, make the mistake of assuming it's inconsequential. This Is How You Lose Her is a linked collection of stories that satisfyingly shuffle through the life of Yunior, a Dominican fuck-up who's great at loving women—and equally good at losing them. We see Yunior as a man, sabotaging his relationship with the woman he loves; as a boy, freshly arrived from Santo Domingo; as an adolescent, torn up with anger and worry as his older brother dies of cancer.

Though linked, each story stands on its own, thanks to Díaz's endlessly lively prose. In one story, a girlfriend starts "making the sort of changes that would have alarmed a paranoid nigger. Cuts her hair, buys better makeup, rocks her clothes, goes out dancing on Friday nights with her friends. When I ask her if we can chill, I'm no longer sure it's a done deal. A lot of the time she Bartlebys me, says No, I'd rather not." Just count the linguistic shifts in those lines: The slangy differentiation between himself and more paranoid types; the catalog of her activities that conclusively proves that, despite his protestations, he is definitely paranoid; and then a Melville misquote tossed in at the end, because why not. In cataloging the heartache Yunior brings on himself, Díaz's voice is distinctive and surprising as ever.

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