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

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz
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's review
May 13, 2016

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bookshelves: fiction, dominican-lit, 2000s
Read in October, 2007

An incredibly fascinating if flawed book, which I'm so glad I read but which makes me sad, because I think it could have been so much more than it was. Diaz is obviously an immensely talented writer (I hear his short story collection, Drown, is phenomenal, and really want to read it now); he weaves together the story of Oscar, an overweight, somewhat hopeless geek living in New York, with that of the rest of his family and the history of the Dominican Republic. I know (knew) next to nothing about the Dominican Republic (which is really shameful considering the ways U.S. history intersects with its history), so I found those portions of the book particularly fascinating, the (based on reality, brr) stories about the brutal dictatorship of Trujillo terrifying and epic in scope. Against them Oscar's struggles seem small—and I say this despite the fact that I (unlike my mother, who coincidentally read this book at the same time I did) found him remarkably and wonderfully relatable for someone who's life is, nominally, nothing like mine. I also really liked Yunior, the character who narrates most of the book; his voice is unusual and instantly distinct, and I could have easily spent hours listening to him tell a story.

So I wish, I really do, that there had been a story here. But weirdly, there's not; the book feels instead like the opening section of five or six different stories. Each of these stories is fantastic—really, really fantastic—but none of them concludes, really; Diaz just moves the narrative on to something else. The whole thing never coalesces (which, believe me, I was waiting and waiting for it to do), with the narrative instead ending on Oscar finally losing his virginity. Dude, I'm happy for you, but... I wanted more about the history of the Dominican Republic. That was where the narrative really came alive: in the footnotes. How odd. Incredibly worth reading, but odd and, ultimately, a little disappointing.
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05/13 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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message 1: by Kelly (new) - added it

Kelly He's speaking at my school this month. My current prof fangirls Daiz like mad. Speaking of which, I'm overhauling my mcshep_match story and turning in for workhop purposes. That should be interesting

Trin Oooh, if I were you I would totally go see him if I had the chance. Even though this wasn't my Favorite Book Ever, he's clearly a really interesting writer, and well worth fangirling, I think. If you do go, you have to give me a full report. *g*

You're redoing your mcshep_match story with original characters? How cool! I'd expect that'd be difficult (not the creating OCs part so much as thinking of a setting as pregnant with possibility as Atlantis), but I bet you can make it work. And I'd love to see it!

message 3: by Kelly (new) - added it

Kelly The problem is more making the character motivation work. You know, without the deus ex machina of Atlantic pulling the strings. Also, I made John's character a girl. I'm working on it right now, which explains why I'm commenting -- I'm procrastinating.

I'm going to try to see Diaz. He's supposed o be an excellent speaker about the writing process.

Trin John makes a great girl. I actually think the whole show makes a lot of sense that way. So: go you! And seriously, I would love to see it when it's done. =)

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