viernes, 24 de junio de 2011

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (Riverhead Books, 2007)
by Junot Díaz
USA, 2007

For a novel that falls a mere one annoying pussy reference short of qualifying as a fucking metal album or something, I eventually warmed to Junot Díaz's geek bildungsroman about sad sack Dominican-American virgin Oscar "Wao" Cabral even though its moronic side tended to bug me at times.  People who enjoy South Park may appreciate its bicultural literary equivalent more than I did.  The thing is funny after all, and I often laughed out loud at its ruthless depiction of college life, the various potshots ("He was a true gangster, gully to the bone, lived the life all those phony rap acts can only rhyme about" [122]), the wacky footnotes, and the Machado de Assis style interactions with the reader ("A Note from Your Author," on page 284, begins as follows: "I know what Negroes are going to say.  Look, he's writing Suburban Tropical now.  A puta and she's not an underage snort-addicted mess?  Not believable.").  I also enjoyed its comically in your face treatment of the "ghetto nerd" immigrant experience, even though I think that some of the heavier flashbacks treating the trujillato in the DR were probably better evoked by Vargas Llosa in his distinctly non-funny The Feast of the Goat.  That being said, I ultimately walked away from my experience with this pop culture-obsessed dramedy housed within the worst cover art I've practically ever seen not entirely sure that this was a novel with soul so much as a slickly written attempt to masquerade as a novel with soul.  Am I thinking about these things too much?  Perhaps.  But Díaz doesn't help himself in this regard because, as effervescent as his use of language often is, he's just as often guilty of laying it on thick with a prefab creative writing instructor/über nerd cuteness that makes me doubt his intentions.  Worth reading, a diverting story to be sure, just far from a fave.  (

Junot Díaz

This was the Wolves' June book of the month as picked by Claire.  Please consider joining us during the last weekend in July for a group read of Orhan Pamuk's Snow, an E.L. Fay selection.

Other Opinions
Claire (kiss a cloud)
Emily (Evening All Afternoon)
Frances (Nonsuch Book)
Rise (in lieu of a field guide)
Sarah (what we have here is a failure to communicate)

23 comentarios:

  1. It's 'moronic side' bugged me all the time. "Who's picking Pulitzer's these days?" I asked myself upon finishing it, "the same fools are picking John Newbery's?" It's a mystery to me why this completely dysfunctional ass won such a literary prize. Rather like Little Miss Sunshine winning an Oscar. What are they thinking, that all the world has lapsed in conscience?

  2. Answer to Bellezza:

    The same people who picked Kathryn Lav.

    And to Richard: I have only rarely liked self-referential stuff because it *does* seem too intentionally cutesy but on the other hand, *your* writing is stellar as always, and I've already written "effervescent use of language" down on my crib sheet of "phrases to steal for future reviews" if, indeed, I ever get back to reading books that actually have effervescent use of language. (However, I am not copying down anything from your first sentence on account of having a blog occasionally visited by aficionados of unicorns.)

  3. Oops, just realized I renamed Kristin as Kathryn. Ah well, these Pulitzer winners - so forgettable! :--)

  4. *Bellezza: I don't follow the award winning competitions much at all, so I'm not too bent out of shape out of this taking a big prize nor do I know what kind of competition it faced. It felt more sophomoric than offensive to me, though. However, it was plenty moronic enough for me to understand your reaction to it even if I laughed a lot at it myself. At least we'll both read better novels soon, I'm guessing!

    *Jill: Thanks for the laughs about the two K-Lavs (oh, no--another mopey trilogy about Kristin's twin sister!) and that parenthetical comment about material you don't want to borrow from my first sentence. Rereading it now, I'm kind of worried that a certain three search word combination from that sentence will require a new spam filter to be installed to avoid those pesky comments from the Anonymous family of losers. Help, where's the delete button?

  5. I was entertained by it. I gave it 3 out of 5 stars. But the harder I think about it, the more I find it infantile. I liked his debut collection Drown a bit more. It's a lot less wordy and perhaps the one that came closer to the stirrings of soul.

  6. Good old Kathy Lav-lav. Always good for a chuckle.

    Richard, you put your finger on my primary annoyance about this book when you say you "doubted Díaz's intentions" - that was it in a nutshell, and I spend my whole post trying to figure out exactly why. In the end I felt more like I was being sold a product (one marketed to my particular demographic, no less) than engaging in a creative two-way reading process with the author.

    On the other hand, as you say, it was genuinely funny. The pages kept turning. It wasn't a terrible experience, just one I found vaguely annoying and unsatisfying as I turned the last page.

  7. It was funny. But. "...not entirely sure that this was a novel with soul so much as a slickly written attempt to masquerade as a novel with soul." Absolutely! I kept thinking of the references to the guy in Oscar's neighborhood who masturbated in public. Cause I kind of think that is what Diaz is doing in an odd sort of way. Self-amusement.

  8. Hi Richard, serendipitously I'm reading Wao now. Skimming the final pages, really. When you say that Diaz's prose has a "prefab creative writing instructor" quality to it, I'm instantly reminded of how much I miss reading your posts on a regular basis. That, and blogging myself. Can you say something more about where Diaz goes sideways in his dramedy? I hope you're well. Cheers, Kevin

  9. I have heard this title mentioned at several places by bloggers but have not actually come around to reading it. Might do so one day

  10. *Rise: 3 out of 5 stars sounds about right. However, the telling thing for me is that even with your voice of support for Drown, I can't see myself wanting to read anything else by Díaz other than maybe an essay in a magazine or something like that. Oscar felt too much like one of those funny, offbeat movies that doesn't stick with you once you leave the movie theater.

    *Emily: Although I initially wondered what it was about Diaz's approach that bothered me so much (i.e. other than the obvious things that I already mentioned in the post), I eventually realized that I don't usually have those kinds of doubts about authorial intentions in books I like--and even in many books I dislike. So I can definitely see your point about the guy coming off as something of a shill pitching his readymade "ethnic" wares. Love the discussion going on over at your blog about what mainstream readers are looking for in contempo fiction and was amused to discover that you and I both resorted to use of the word "annoying" when describing our frustrations with this otherwise fairly funny book!

    *Frances: Ha ha, it makes it so much easier for me when you and Emily and I can all agree on these things! However, did you mean self-amusement or self-abusement when you were speaking about Díaz as the writer-as-public wanker? Just kidding, my friend. P.S. Even though I liked aspects of the writing here, some of the less-satisfactory moments reminded me of the conversations that both you and Nicole from bibliographing have initiated re: the hollowness of creative writing grads today. Did you sense that as well?

    *Bellezza: I appreciate your anti-passion for this work. Preach it, sister! :D

    *Kevin: Hey, nice to have you over again here, new daddy! Although I didn't take notes on this book like I often do with the other group reads I participate in, I guess the prefab creative writing thing had a lot to do with any number of random lines I read where it felt like Díaz was obviously pushing buttons for a laugh or reaching for a perfect line that felt false to me given the narrator(s) in question. Would you agree that there was a certain preciousness to the writing? I'll have to see if I can go back and find any choice examples on that and get back to you later. As to where Díaz goes sideways more generally, Emily makes the great point in her post that the main narrator and Oscar's sister don't really sound that much different in terms of their respective narrative voices. I was also troubled by the "touching" ending, which seemed to neatly resolve many loose ends in a way that struck me as at least partially manipulative rather than organic (I realize that others may disagree). Some of the Dominican Republic sequences on Trujillo's womanizing were better done by Mario Vargas Llosa in his The Feast of the Goat, so I'm not sure why Díaz would in effect replay them here. Other complaints of mine have to do with the tone of the work and the uneasy coexistence of street slang and what to me is rather precious language at times--that's a taste thing, of course, and it may well represent what Díaz thinks is the way his community college writing instructor would narrate, but I didn't buy it consistently...even if it did make me laugh--a compensating factor in my overall opinion of the work, heh heh. Cheers!

    *Nana: I'd say it's worth reading for its comedic value and for some of the insights it shares about the Dominican-American immigrant experience in the US. Its writing is flawed in some ways, though, so it's not as fulfilling as it could have been. Cheers!

  11. That is exactly what I sensed and thank you for paying attention to my conversation with Nicole. And for the record, still going with self-amusement with the assumption that we all find different things amusing.

  12. I've not read Oscar Wao, possibly because I know without reading it that it's exactly as you described; - but I have been watching a lot of South Park recently, and what you say is very true.

  13. *Frances: Re: what you and Nicole were talking about, I suspected that this might fall into that unwelcome category for you. Understandably, of course. Thanks for the clarification on my more frivolous question, too--y'all are killing me with laughter today!

    *Obooki: Despite the laughs from Díaz (and the second half of your comment!), I'm beginning to feel like I took one for the team in the name of research. Must now read some Krasznahorkai or something to power up on my rapidly dwindling blogger street cred. Until then, I guess it's not a good sign that I can't think of one book I ever liked that could even vaguely be considered as "South Park-inspired" or anything like that. Lesson learned.

  14. I think this is not for me at all. Some things that I might enjoy in a movie or even TV series are just not appealing in book form to me. I also have a feeling that it is one of those book that one has forgotten within a week of finishing it.

  15. *Caroline: I think I would have missed out on an entertaining and funny book if I had skipped this, and a book that does interesting things with its combination of English and Spanish prose (something I probably didn't concentrate enough on in my post--bilingual Spanish/English speakers or polyglots such as yourself may find that aspect of the book more rewarding than others). However, I won't try and persuade you to give it a try--I agree that it's a work that probably won't stick with you for long. In fact, what book were we talking about again? Cheers!

  16. First of all, best first sentence of a review EVER.

    I feel like I should thank you guys for doing a bit of a public service here. This is the exact type of book I could easily pick up, and now I don't have to! Ha. On the other hand, it's also got me thinking that I don't read enough mediocre-to-good contemporary fiction to really talk about why I'm not so crazy about it. What a horrible project idea, that, but one that will probably happen.

  17. Yeah, I really didn't like this one. The "moronic side" was too much for me. I was incredibly annoyed the whole time I was reading.

  18. This review made me laugh so much! I get very suspicious about books that try to hard. I can't stop noticing that they are trying too hard! Not that I have read this, though, so I shouldn't really voice an opinion.

  19. Hey, I like South Park. And I like those quotes you included. Once the library gets this one back, I should catch up!

  20. *Nicole: Thanks, I had fun writing that post for the most part even though the reading experience itself was a bit of mixed bag! For someone else who hasn't exactly been bowled over by contemporary fiction from the U.S. and the UK, though, I'm not sure what to make of that masochistic reading project of yours other than better you than me. :D

    *Emily Jane: The annoyance factor got the better of me at times, too, although apparently I was less annoyed by it than you and some others (hey, with a little more polishing, I might just have invented the perfect blurb for this book!).

    *Litlove: Ha ha, thanks--love your comment about what books that try too hard do to us poor undeserving readers!

    *E.L. Fay: You like South Park and Star Trek? One more strike, and you might be the perfect audience for this book! :D

  21. Much, much too self-aware of a book. I wanted to find Oscar more interesting that Trujillo, but the opposite was true. Is Feast of the Goat about the DR? I want to read something else set there or by a Dominican writer. Something better than this book!

  22. *Sarah: Sorry about the delay, but yes The Feast of the Goat is about Trujillo. And it's a way better book than Díaz's, but you might have guessed that already (Díaz would probably make a better sitcom writer than Vargas Llosa, though). No Lord of the Rings references either. :D