Jason's Reviews > The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz
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Nov 04, 10

Read from October 19 to 25, 2010

I’ll reveal something today maybe no other reviewer will tell you about themselves. If they award many stars to The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao, then they’re nerds--we’re nerds. If not nerds, then we orbit darn close to center mass nerdiness, a satellite captured by a dense planetoid of sci-fi. And that’s alright, all you Clark Kents and Napoleon Dynamites.

I gave a 4th star to Junot Diaz’s Pulitzer Prize winner because he deftly and imaginatively incorporated a strong titration of cultural sci-fi markers in a story that would not have been as interesting without them. He has a deep understanding and a comprehensive grasp of seminal nerd attributes: comic-steeped themes, late-stage virginity, RPGs, anime, Asperger’s-like social awkwardness, cult classic movies, athletically-challenged, a wish list of superpowers, girl-repellent, tech-y nicknames, imaginative overdrive, questionable hygiene, odd jargon...

Diaz was unrelenting with his nerd references. Not only did these unique references honestly characterize the protagonist, but they exactly set the story in time and place, and provided a unique voice for the narrator. Kudos to Diaz. I can’t imagine reading Oscar Wao and missing or misunderstanding the zany nerd culture references, which come at you at least every other page, and sometimes in wicked staccato, like batting fungo. If you’re a nerd, or in sci-fi orbit, this is a rich story. But don’t be hopeful. As in real life, Oscar the 300-pound, Dominican nerd is mistreated, his potential to abscond the storyline are never realized, and the fiction arrives at a harsh, harsh ending for our lovable little Gene Roddenberry, our little Bill Gates.

This is ultimately a 3 star book. Diaz won the Pulitzer for his narrative technique. It’s ultra hip, chatty, brutal, bi-lingual, captures a certain zeitgeist, and is overly familiar with the N-word. Oscar Wao is the star, a character so unique that you’re willing to push through 90% of the story that’s not about him. The story is a non-linear history through Oscar’s gene pool. It’s a story about the Dominican people--their corruption, their poverty, their superstitions, their hemispheric sexual prowess, their diaspora. And within this greater palette is a story of a family. But Oscar is the jewel, and Diaz kept him hidden from view far too long.

It’s a neat way to tell a story, if you like a fleeting bildungsroman spoken by a hipster--but the “shit negro’s” and “fuku’s,” by chapter 3, quickly became over leveraged. Too much narrative style and too little Oscar Wao. Heartfelt? Of course it was. Revealing? Yes. Readable? No doubt. Enjoyable? Uh-huh. And yet--except for Oscar Wao’s character--rather forgettable. My opinion, of course.
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Comments (showing 1-6 of 6) (6 new)

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message 1: by Paul (new) - added it

Paul Bryant I loved Drown but I think I love this review more than I'd love Oscar Wao if I'd got round to reading it. You know what I mean.


Trish Listened to this rather than read it and found it terrific with accents. Very unique among the material I come across, and yet not inaccessible. Taught me things and was humorous. Gets points for all of those.


Jason Paul, you and I can write some long reviews, but I'm often thankful for the short, concise ones--thought I'd write one. Drown has a similar narrator's voice. If Diaz's third book is similar, he'll be in danger of being a method writer.

Trish, if you're familiar with Spanish, this book has an extra dimension. It really floats between being an English book with lots of Spanish, and a Spanish book written in English for a wider audience.


message 4: by tim (new)

tim Really awesome review, Jason. Thank you.


message 5: by Nicholas (new)

Nicholas Ochiel Jason wrote: "It’s a story about the Dominican people--their corruption, their poverty, their superstitions, their hemispheric sexual prowess, their diaspora."

This is why I have deep misgivings about Diaz. In discussing brown/black people, he only works within stereotypes and clichés. This of course reinforces what white America already believes about the coloured races. This, it seems, is often How To Win Big Prizes (see The Caine Prize). This, also, is Percival Everett's argument (see Erasure) with best-selling contemporary black writing. I share his frustration.


message 6: by Jim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jim great review...I'm tempted to steal it...


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