This Is How You Lose Her (Diaz)

This Is How You Lose Her
Junot Diaz, 2012
Penguin Group USA
224 pp.
ISBN-13: 978

Díaz turns his remarkable talent to the haunting, impossible power of love—obsessive love, illicit love, fading love, maternal love.

On a beach in the Dominican Republic, a doomed relationship flounders. In the heat of a hospital laundry room in New Jersey, a woman does her lover’s washing and thinks about his wife. In Boston, a man buys his love child, his only son, a first baseball bat and glove.

At the heart of these stories is the irrepressible, irresistible Yunior, a young hardhead whose longing for love is equaled only by his recklessness—and by the extraordinary women he loves and loses: artistic Alma; the aging Miss Lora; Magdalena, who thinks all Dominican men are cheaters; and the love of his life, whose heartbreak ultimately becomes his own.

In prose that is endlessly energetic, inventive, tender, and funny, the stories in This Is How You Lose Her lay bare the infinite longing and inevitable weakness of the human heart. They remind us that passion always triumphs over experience, and that “the half-life of love is forever.” (From the publisher.)

Author Bio 
Birth—December 31, 1968
Where—Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
Reared—Parlin, New Jersey, USA
Education—B.A., Rugters; M.F.A., Cornell
Awards—Eugene McDermott Award, Guggenheim Fellowship,
  National Endowment of the Arts Fellowship, PEN/Malamud
  Award, , Rome Prize from American Academy of Arts and
  Sciences, National Book Critics Circle Award
Currently—New York, New York and Boston, Massachusetts

Junot Díaz was born in Villa Juana, a barrio in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. He was the third child in a family of five. Throughout most of his early childhood he lived with his mother and grandparents while his father worked in the United States. In December, 1974, at the age of six, Díaz immigrated to Parlin, New Jersey, where he was re-united with his father.

He attended Kean College in Union, New Jersey for one year before transferring and ultimately completing his BA at Rutgers College in 1992, majoring in English; there he was involved in a creative-writing living-learning residence hall and in various student organizations and was exposed to the authors who would motivate him into becoming a writer: Toni Morrison and Sandra Cisneros. He worked his way through college: delivering pool tables, washing dishes, pumping gas and working at Raritan River Steel.

After graduating from Rutgers he was employed at Rutgers University Press as an editorial assistant. He earned his MFA from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York in 1995, where he wrote most of his first collection. Diaz has said he was stunned when he received an acceptance letter from Cornell because he had not applied there. Apparently his then-girlfriend applied on his behalf.

Díaz is active in Dominican community and teaches creative writing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and is also the fiction editor for the Boston Review. He is a founding member of the Voices of Writing Workshop, a writing workshop focused on writers of color.

His fiction has appeared in The New Yorker magazine which listed him as one of the 20 top writers for the 21st century. He has also been published in Story, Paris Review, and in the anthologies Best American Short Stories four times (1996, 1997, 1999, 2000), and African Voices. He is best known for his two major works: the short story collection Drown (1996) and the novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007). Both were published to critical acclaim.

He has received a Eugene McDermott Award, a fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, a Lila Acheson Wallace Readers Digest Award, the 2002 Pen/Malamud Award, the 2003 US-Japan Creative Artist Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, a fellowship at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University and the Rome Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He won the 2007 Sargant First Novel Prize and was selected as one of the 39 most important Latin American writers under the age of 39 by the Bogotá Book Capital of World and the Hay Festival. In September of 2007, Miramax acquired the rights for a film adaptation of The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.

The stories in Drown focus on the teenage narrator's impoverished, fatherless youth in the Dominican Republic and his struggle adapting to his new life in New Jersey. Reviews were generally strong but not without numerous complaints.

The arrival of his novel (The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao) in 2007 prompted a minor re-appraisal of Diaz's earlier work. His first book "Drown" was now being widely recognized as an important landmark in contemporary literature—ten years after publication—even by critics who had either entirely ignored the book or had given it poor reviews.

Díaz's first novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao was released in September 2007. (An excerpt from the novel had appeared previously in The New Yorker's 2007 Summer Fiction issue.) Writing in Time magazine critic Lev Grossman said that Díaz's novel was...

so astoundingly great that in a fall crowded with heavyweights—Richard Russo, Philip Roth—Díaz is a good bet to run away with the field. You could call The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao the saga of an immigrant family, but that wouldn't really be fair. It's an immigrant-family saga for people who don't read immigrant-family sagas. The family in question emigrated from the Dominican Republic and consists of a mother, a son and a daughter—the father having done a runner some years earlier.

The Brief Wondrous life of Oscar Wao was awarded the Sargent First Novel Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award for Best Novel of 2007. The novel was selected by Time and New York Magazine as the best novel of 2007. St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Los Angeles Times, Village Voice, Christian Science Monitor, New Statesman, Washington Post and Publishers Weekly also placed the novel on their Best of 2007 lists. A poll by National Book Critics Circle ranked The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao as the most recommended novel by their members.

His 2012 This Is How You Lose Her is a collection of nine short stories unified by a central character, Yunior, the narrator of several stories in Drown. The stories follow hardheaded Yunior, falling in out of relationships as he yearns for love. The book has earned Junot high praise.

About his own work and artistic outlook Diaz offered these insights...

Place was never something I took for granted, not when I had two geographies in my heart. I take special pleasure in naming things as well as I can, since all I was taught as a kid was to give things false names. Or to give them no name at all. I find these public/private discussions repressive whether they're being generated from within our community or without. How in the world can anyone form an authentic self when there are so many damn rules about how one should act in the world? Us writers, we're just throwing words up into the wind, hoping that they will carry, and someone, somewhere, sometime, will have a use for them. (Biography from Wikipedia.)

Book Reviews
Junot Díaz has one of the most distinctive and magnetic voices in contemporary fiction: limber, streetwise, caffeinated and wonderfully eclectic.... The strongest tales are those fueled by the verbal energy and magpie language that made Brief Wondrous Life so memorable and that capture Yunior’s efforts to commute between two cultures, Dominican and American, while always remaining an outsider.
Michiko Kakutani - New York Times

Junot Díaz  writes in an idiom so electrifying and distinct it’s practically an act of aggression, at once enthralling, even erotic in its assertion of sudden intimacy.... [It is] a syncopated swagger-step between opacity and transparency, exclusion and inclusion, defiance and desire.... His prose style is so irresistible, so sheerly entertaining, it risks blinding readers to its larger offerings. Yet he weds form so ideally to content that instead of blinding us, it becomes the very lens through which we can see the joy and suffering of the signature Díaz  subject: what it means to belong to a diaspora, to live out the possibilities and ambiguities of perpetual insider/outsider status.
Leah Hager Cohen - New York Times Book Review

Drown, [Diaz's] 1996 collection of stories, was widely praised for its verve and searing honesty. Readers of that and [The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao] will find much to love in This Is How You Lose Her. Written in a singular idiom of Spanglish, hip-hop poetry and professorial erudition, it is comic in its mopiness, charming in its madness and irresistible in its heartfelt yearning.
Ron Hansen - Washington Post

In Diaz’s magisterial voice, the trials and tribulations of sex-obsessed objectifiers become a revelation.
Boston Globe

[A] propulsive new collection…[that] succeeds not only because of the author's gift for exploring the nuances of the male…but because of a writing style that moves with the rhythm and grace of a well-danced merengue.
Seattle Times

Díaz writes with subtle and sharp brilliance. … He dazzles us with his language skills and his story-making talents, bringing us a narrative that is starkly vernacular and sophisticated, stylistically complex and direct. ….A spectacular read.
Díaz writes with subtle and sharp brilliance. … He dazzles us with his language skills and his story-making talents, bringing us a narrative that is starkly vernacular and sophisticated, stylistically complex and direct. ….A spectacular read.
Minneapolis Star-Tribune

These stories...are virtuosic, command performances that mine the deceptive, lovelorn hearts of men with the blend of tenderness, comedy and vulgarity of early Philip Roth. It's Diaz's voice that's such a delight, and it is every bit his own, a melting-pot pastiche of Spanglish and street slang, pop culture and Dominican culture, and just devastating descriptive power, sometimes all in the same sentence.
USA Today

This collection of stories, like everything else [Díaz has] written, feels vital in the literal sense of the word. Tough, smart, unflinching, and exposed, This is How You Lose Her is the perfect reminder of why Junot Díaz won the Pulitzer Prize...[He] writes better about the rapid heartbeat of urban life than pretty much anyone else.
Christian Science Monitor

Exhibits the potent blend of literary eloquence and street cred that earned him a Pulitzer Prize…Diaz’s prose is vulgar, brave, and poetic.
O Magazine

Searing, irresistible new stories…It’s a harsh world  Diaz conjures but  one filled also with beauty and humor and buoyed by the stubborn resilience of the human spirit.

The centripetal force of Díaz’s sensibility and the slangy bar-stool confidentiality of his voice that he makes this hybridization feel not only natural and irresistible, but inevitable, the voice of the future…[This is How You Lose Her] manages to be achingly sad and joyful at the same time. Its heart is true, even if Yunior’s isn’t.

(Starred review.) Searing, sometimes hilarious, and always disarming.... Readers will remember why everyone wants to write like Díaz, bring him home, or both. Raw and honest, these stories pulsate with raspy ghetto hip-hop and the subtler yet more vital echo of the human heart.
Publishers Weekly

Díaz’s third book is as stunning as its predecessors. These stories are hard and sad, but in Díaz’s hands they also crackle.
Library Journal

(Starred review.) Each taut tale of unrequited and betrayed love and family crises is electric with passionate observations and off-the-charts emotional and social intelligence.... Fast-paced, unflinching, complexly funny, street-talking tough...Díaz’s gripping stories unveil lives shadowed by prejudice and poverty and bereft of reliable love and trust. These are...lives in which intimacy is a lost art, masculinity a parody, and kindness, reason, and hope struggle to survive like seedlings in a war zone.

Discussion Questions
Use our LitLovers Book Club Resources; they can help with discussions for any book:

How to Discuss a Book (helpful discussion tips)
Generic Discussion Questions—Fiction and Nonfiction
Read-Think-Talk (a guided reading chart)

Also consider these LitLovers talking points to help get a discussion started for This Is How You Lose Her:

1. What do you think of Yunior—how would you describe him? Do you find him sympathetic, exasperating, offensive, likable? Is it possible to create a likable character who is a compulsive womanizer?

2. Yunior says of himself, "I’m not a bad guy.... I’m like everybody else: weak, full of mistakes, but basically good." Do you agree with his self-assessment...or is he letting himself off the hook too easily? Isn't his description applicable to anyone?

3. Talk about the family's reaction to their new home in the U.S. What would it be like to find yourself in a totally new culture faced with an different language?

4. (Follow-up to Question 3) In "Invierno" Yunior and his brother, newly arrived in New Jersey, stare out the window. Talk about the literary symbolism of that act—what "staring out a window" might represent metaphorically for anyone new to this country.

5. What role in this book does the American Dream play in Yunior's and his family's new life in America?

6. What about Rafa—what do you think of him? Talk about the relationship between the two brothers and, especially, how Yunior relates to Rafa.

7. What does Yunior think—what do you think—of the way Rafa treats women? Does Yunor admire and envy his brother's treatment of women? Does he want to copy Rafa's behavior...or is he shocked by it?

8. (Follow-up to Question 7) A pattern of infidelity runs throughout the stories. Why is Yunior compulsively unfaithful to women? Consider the influences of his father and brother—are genetics destiny? Explore the idea of a deeper, metaphorical meaning of betrayal in these stories—a betrayal against the self? And why does Yunior leave a written record of his infidelities?

9. (Follow-up to Questions 7 & 8) What makes Yunior so compulsively self-destructive?

10. How does the author deal with Rafa's cancer? If you've read other works about cancer patients, does Diaz differ in the way he handles the illness in this book?

11. In "The Pura Principle," Mami, having not been particularly religious before, turns to Christianity to find solace during Rafa's illness. What is Yunior's attitude toward his mother's new-found devotion...and his attitude toward religion in general?

12. Talk about the final story of this book, "The Cheater's Guide to Love." What is Yunior coming to realize? In what way has he changed or matured?

13. Diaz uses two different points of view in his stories—the first-person "I" and second-person "you." At times he breaks out of the former to speak to readers directly. Any thought as to why—what is the effect of doing so? What about his use of the second-person perspective—is it clever, awkward, or off-putting?

14. Some have described Diaz's language as "Spanglish." But he also uses a healty dose of idioms from other parts of culture, from hip-hop to academia. What other cultural lingo does Diaz draw from, and what is the effect of his "multilingualism"? Does it make for greater realism...or humor...or what? Does it cause difficulties for you, the reader?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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