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Originally published Sunday, September 16, 2012 at 5:00 AM

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'This Is How You Lose Her': love, lust and the divided heart of the male

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Junot Diaz' story collection "This Is How You Lose Her" showcases the tension "between men's base desires and their brooding sense of ethics," says Times reviewer Tyrone Beason. Diaz appears Monday at the Seattle Public Library.

Special to The Seattle Times

Author appearance

Junot Diaz

The author of "This Is How You Lose Her" will appear at 7 p.m. Monday at Town Hall Seattle, 1119 Eighth Ave. Sponsored by the Seattle Public Library; free (206-386-4636 or www.spl.org).
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'This is How You Lose Her'

by Junot Diaz

Riverhead, 224 pp., $26.95

There are lots of reasons to believe that men are the less-fair sex, and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Junot Diaz explores just about all of them in his propulsive new collection of short stories about Dominican-American men and their relationships with women, "This Is How You Lose Her."

This slim collection of just nine stories by Diaz, a writing professor at MIT, succeeds not only because of the author's gift for exploring the nuances of the male experience (also seen in his is debut 1997 collection "Drown" and his 2007 novel "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao," winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Pulitzer Prize for fiction) but because of a writing style that moves with the rhythm and grace of a well-danced merengue.

Some of these stories are so drenched in swearing and swagger and emotional disregard that on the surface, they don't appear to have anything to do with love.

But this collection is as much about that subject as the loss suggested in the book's title.

The men in many of these stories are mama's boys with a weirdly ambivalent, sometimes hostile attitude toward womanhood. They are so busy gaming for the next sexual conquest that the one pursuit that really needs attention — critical self-examination — usually goes unexplored until too late.

How can you feel anything but contempt for serial cheaters who promise till they're blue in the face to change (but seldom do), homeboys who refer to their women with degrading Spanish slang and guys whose first impulse is to dodge responsibility when a girlfriend says she's pregnant?

Certainly the women who have to deal with these guys know what they're about.

But for every dirty deed, there is an expression of something resembling virtue. That's what keeps "This Is How You Lose Her" from plunging irretrievably into "Men are pigs" territory.

Diaz is as inventive and cheeky as they come at exploring the tension between men's base desires and their brooding sense of ethics, all the while capturing the dual nature of people who shuttle emotionally and physically between the urban jungles of America and the tropical reaches of their Dominican Republic homeland.

In the "The Sun, the Moon, the Stars," we meet a young man named Yunior who gives us this disclaimer straight away: "I'm not a bad guy ... I'm like everybody else: weak, full of mistakes but basically good."

Yunior adores his girlfriend, Magda, but that doesn't stop him from cheating on her with a co-worker who has "a big butt and a smart mouth" named Cassandra.

He feels so bad after having sex with Cassandra for the first time that he calls his girlfriend to say hello while still in bed with the other woman. He still brags to us about how fun the illicit encounter was.

In the bitterly funny, "The Pura Principle," we meet a pot-smoking teen who's watching his older brother Rafa waste away from cancer while their tough-as-nails mom does verbal battle with Rafa's latest girlfriend, a Dominican immigrant named Pura. Mama suspects that Pura is only with her son to secure U.S. residency papers.

But this story is really about the younger boy struggling to enter manhood and realizing the complexity of motherly (and brotherly) love.

Finally, "In the Cheater's Guide to Love," we are introduced to a guy who has played around on his girlfriend with 50 women during their relationship but stupidly fails to delete the email exchanges he had with them.

What results is one more unflinching and genuinely touching account of what happens when men realize the impact of their actions and try, often ham-handedly, to make things right.

Tyrone Beason is a writer for

Pacific Northwest Magazine.

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