Loads of Learned Lumber

Friday, May 28, 2010

Junot Diaz, _The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao_

THE BOOK CLUB read this for...February? March? A Pulitzer winner, and deservedly so.

As the novel begins, we seem to be getting a recent-immigrant version of The Nerd's Tale, Oscar being an overweight, Tolkien-obsessed teenager, tormented by desire but invisible to girls -- with the twist that his parents are recently arrived in New York City from the Dominican Republic. Our narrator is an almost-friend of his, fond of Oscar and unfaithfully in love with Oscar's sister, but continually making apotropiac gestures to ward off the nerd-toxicity that clings to Oscar like a cloud.

Interesting... but then we rewind in history to get the story of Oscar's mother's young womanhood in the D. R. during the Trujillo era, and later the story of his grandfather, yet further back in time but likewise under Trujillo -- and so we have a multi-generational family saga folded into our Nerd's Tale, with a teaspoon of magical realism in the legend of a fuk├║, or curse, under which Oscar's family and the D. R. alike suffer.

The Dominican Republic's curse is, first and foremost, Trujillo, and after Trujillo's assassination a series of "leaders" who similarly traffic in corruption and brutal intimidation. The family's curse is that its members love wholly, completely, body and soul, and always are beaten within an inch of their lives, or actually to death, for their love.

So now you know why Oscar's life was brief -- and also why it was wondrous.

Diaz gets a lot done here, and his voice is convincing throughout.

Oscar's surname is not, in fact, "Wao," and therein lies a tale, but I've told you enough already.

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