I’ve been around the block long enough to know that everything I read is colored by the way I see the author. And I can’t look at Junot Díaz the same after the stream of stories regarding his behavior toward women erupted this year. He had long been one of my favorite authors, and while I was living in Cambridge, one of my happiest moments was attending a book reading that he hosted at a local bookstore and having him sign my copy of This is How You Lose Her.
Díaz’s voice, his writing, his story-telling, his scene-weaving, they are the same in This is How You Lose Her as in Drown, which I recently finished. I guess the only thing that’s changed is me.
Drown is a collection of short stories that Díaz wrote before both This is How You Lose Her and his novel The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. These are coming of age stories centering around a single family and character (I think), and they would probably be great if I read them several years ago. I’m not even sure that that sentiment stems completely from knowledge of Díaz’s transgressions. Part of it comes with a familiarity with Díaz’s voice; the kid in Drown almost could have grown up to be the fuck ni**a in This is How You Lose Her…who was probably Díaz all along anyway. Oscar Wao was a slightly different voice and a slightly different character, but Drown feels like the prequel to This is How You Lose Her. I still haven’t decided if that is a bad thing, though.
The most interesting part of this book was the exploration of the father-son relationship. Maybe Yunior really did grown up to be an ain’t shit dude in This is How You Lose Her, and maybe it was because his father was an ain’t shit dude. Each one teach one. Maybe Díaz is a case study in how toxic masculinity and weathered bonds between men can shape your life, your work, and and your impact into eternity. The relationships certainly felt real, ripe with the volatility, comfort, fragility, and sullen hurts that flow through our own relationships so often. Díaz certainly has a gift for capturing people on paper. Now, to see if his voice can morph with the circumstances of his life and how his readers view him. He has to change after this year if he will remain a writer of any regard. How he and his writing changes we’ll have to wait and see.
While I was reading this book, I got caught out in the rain and I had to run home in a torrential downpour. By the time I fished the book out of my purse, it was warped with the weight of the water that had soaked into the pages. Nothing comes through the storm unchanged.