Literary Greats Always Cheat at Golf

Monday, January 26, 2009

The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

I finished The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao today. It was utterly fantastic. Reminded me of The Corrections in some ways, although I don't think it's quite as compelling, simply because the main character's and the narrator's flaws were not as compelling for me. When I read The Corrections I felt tremendous sympathy for every single character whereas there were many, many points in the story where I wanted to smack Oscar and tell him not to be such a little bitch. But kudos to Junot Diaz for making me want to enter a book to do violence to his creation.

What I seriously love best about the book is the language, which combines Dominican spanish, gamer and fantasy nerd vocabulary and... I don't know what to say that doesn't sound too nerdy... hip-hopish urban english?

"So anyway, guess who decided that she was the love of his life? Who fell head over heels for her because he heard her playing Joy Division up in her room and, surprise, he loved Joy Division too? Oscar of course. At first, dude just stared at her from afar and moaned about her "ineffabtle perfection." Out of your league, I snarked, but he shrugged, talked to the computer screen: Everybody's out of my league. Didn't think nothing of it until a week later when I caught him putting a move on her in Brower Commons! I was with the boys, listening to them grouse about the Knicks, watching Oscar and La Jablesse on the hot-food line, waiting for the moment she told him off, figured if I'd gotten roasted she was going to vaporize his ass. Of course he was full on, doing his usual Battle of the Planets routine, talking a mile a minute, sweat running down his face, and homegirl was holding her tray and looking at him askance-- not many girls can do askance and keep their cheese fries from plunging off their trays, but this was why niggers were crazy about La Jablesse. She started walking away and Oscar yelled out superloud, We'll talk anon! And she shot back a Sure, all larded with sarcasm."

And one of my favorite exchanges, partly because it reminded me of a friend's ex and also my nerd dad (who I randomly remembered last night named a pet fish Ho Chi Minnow):

"He seemed the same to me. Still massive-- Biggie Smalls minus the smalls-- and still lost. Still writing ten, fifteen, twenty pages a day. Still obsessed with his fanboy madness. Do you know what sign fool put up on dorm door? Speak, friend, and enter. In fucking Elivish! (Please don't ask me how I knew this. Please.) When I saw that I said: De Leon, you gotta be kidding. Elvish?
Actually, he coughed, it's Sindarin.
Actually, Melvin say, it's gay-hay-hay/"

So the book is about a cursed family, basically, and to tell you that Oscar meets an unfortunate end is to tell you nothing that the title doesn't already. But what made me angry at him was that his problems were mainly self-inflicted, but in his thrashing about to fix the fact that he's a mid twenties virginal nerd, he seriously damages other people, for the most part his family but also the women he becomes fixated on.

The book purports to be about the tragedies of Oscar's life, as if these events are the culmination and climax of a decades old curse, but the problem of being lonely and obsessive really doesn't amount to a hill of beans compared to being raped by a neighbor at eight years old, as his sister is, or being tortured in prison, as his grandfather was, or burned with oil and beaten to the point of miscarriage and near death by a dictator's gang, like his mother was. It just ended up reminding me of bitter nerdboys from my own life who make their own lack of romantic luck out to be some macbethian tragedy and use it as an excuse to be pathologically careless with the people around them.

I feel like I am obligated to mention something about "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber," but everything of think of is pretty superficial. They both have lions in them! I guess that when Oscar Wao comes down to it, it's much more accurate about who, ultimately, is more a danger to whom. For Hemingway, women fuck you to get your money, fuck around on you, then kill you. In Oscar Wao, it's a much more complicated picture. In a world that commodifies women in this particular case very literally, and in which men don't listen to what women explicitly say they want or need, it's easy for someone who means well, but who is ultimately self-centered to mak e a serious disaster for a lot of people


At 8:00 PM, Blogger Sadako said...

I've heard really good things about this--your review really makes me want to read it!!


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