TITLE: This Is How You Lose Her
AUTHOR: Junot Diaz
GENRE: General Fiction/Classics
Lines such as the following selections, ripped from various sections and moments in the book, serve to remind readers that we are in the hands of a careful, master writer...
* "The half-life of love is forever."
* "The blood always shows, you say to Paloma on the ride to school next day. Yunior, she stirs from her doze, I don’t have time for your craziness, OK?"
Junot Diaz wants to impart something, a substance, a truth. This impartation is in the title, it’s in the tone, and it’s in the language. Alfred Bester, a writer undeniably ahead of his time in both theme, style, and manner, wrote, “There is no defense against betrayal. And we all betray ourselves.” (The Stars My Destination)
Like great storytellers from the beginning of human fiction (Dickens, Nabokov, Austen, Aesop), Diaz subverts low-brow multi-threaded stories. In this case, he focuses on the story of Yunior, a rather lost, centerless, oblivious young man, to reveal subtle, sad and affecting truths. The weight of the past pushes Yunior, his friends, lovers and family towards a seemingly inescapable future of eventual loneliness and personal loss.
Presented deceptively as a collection of short stories, our protagonist is Yunior, a writer, a Dominican-American man working his way through many sad relationships. An omnipotent narrator, in the second person using ‘You’ pronouns, tells many of the stories.
How many hours of our life do we devote to trying to understand the world and the consequences of our presence in it? If you’re like me, I spend most of my time acting, and re-enacting. But Diaz wants us to think. He demands Yunior’s consideration on what he is doing to his life. He demands our consideration.
This is How You Lose Her begins with a first-person narrative story about a painfully slow breakup and ends with the longest story of the collection, a lifetime overview of the effects Junior’s love life and the loss of a woman he truly loved. Diaz accesses the vulgar slang and perspectives of the Dominican male community through most of his stories. This the crude emersion into a low-brow world should engage our resistance to sympathize with Yunior, but instead it forces upon us insight into the world of the gender dynamics (“male privilege, baby.” writes Yunior), the loss of cultural heritage, and a world of deceptive and broken relationships. This bypass allows the writer to flip the shallow exterior of his often-despicable protagonist to reveal a human soul torn, in pain, unable to truly love or comprehend the women in his life, trapping himself in a sad and troubling existence. Regular and often shocking objectification of women, the inner thought life of a young man, will suddenly give way to profound sentences such as:
“This is what I know: people’s hopes go on forever.”
And, near the end of the final story, the stunning line:
“Some nights you have Neuromancer dreams where you see the ex and the boy and another figure, familiar, waving at you in the distance. Somewhere, very close, the laugh that wasn’t laughter.”
If you didn’t know (I didn’t), this is called code-switching – essentially flipping between the colloquial and the sophisticated. It bypasses our resistance, our assumptions, and throws us into the depth and complexity of human consciousness. It’s effect, for me, was deeply moving.
In 2019 it seems easier than ever to judge others, especially living in my country, where so many families seem trapped and dependant on a cycle of social welfare and in the destructive cycles of the past. Yet in this book, the truly personal and unflinching moments of loss, of easy betrayal, of heartbreaking decisions by Diaz’s protagonist hurled me deep into thought about how I see people, how I judge those I meet, how I underestimate the humanity of each person I encounter.
That Diaz makes his protagonist Yunior a writer, I assume a relatively rare occupation for young Dominican men, seems to indicate some kind of autobiographical nature to the character. This idea is supported by a Guardian article that reports, “Díaz writes of reaching “rock bottom” after a woman he loved discovered he had been cheating on her repeatedly, causing him to go to therapy.”
I believe this book emerged out of the revealing moments in Diaz’s own life when he realised he was the betrayer.
On the novel's final page these carefully considered words stood out, as Yunior finally beings to write the book he always talked about writing:
“It’s a start, you say to the room. That’s about it. In the months that follow you bend to the work, because it feels like hope, like grace—and because you know in your lying cheater’s heart that sometimes a start is all we ever get.”
Whatever the case, whether I was enjoying it or being fundamentally challenged, reading This is How You Lose Her was therapy for me.