Friday, July 17, 2009

Book Reviews: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and Drown both by Junot Diaz

A friend of mine recommended I read Junot Diaz's work after I raved about Jhumpa Lahiri.  I started off by reading his novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.  It was an okay read and I wasn't really impressed.  It made me chuckle a few times just because the narrator's language style is very similar to the style that folks from the South Bronx have but other than that, I really just had to press on to finish the novel.  There were lots and lots of footnotes giving the history of the Dominican Republic.  I felt like Diaz was trying to be cheeky but was distracting instead.  Eventually, I started to ignore the footnotes once I realized they weren't integral to the story.   I thought to myself that maybe Diaz is a better short story writer than a novelist.  As such, I picked up Drown, (here's the full text) which confirmed my thoughts.  He is a better short story writer.  This is the kind of writer that needs to get in and get out.  Yet and still, I was not bowled over by his collection of short stories.  They felt stunted in a way.  And as a writer, I hate to be critical of other's writing--especially folks who are published and acclaimed.  But I felt like he was trying to do something he just couldn't get done.  I wrote in a previous blog that I actually read three short stories consecutively without realizing that they were indeed three separate and distinct stories.  All the stories have this same kind of depressed energy and underlying tone that just doesn't propel you to turn the pages. Diaz, however,  is a good, solid writer.  His subject matter is also very interesting as you never really hear the story of immigrants from the Dominican Republic and for that reason, I do encourage everyone to read his work.  It's hard not to compare writers but I definitely prefer Lahiri, hands down.  There's just an elegance to her writing that Diaz doesn't possess.  It is also encouraging when I find new (at least to me) young successful short story writers.  My ultimate goal is to be published in the New Yorker magazine and so it really helps me focus when I read writers who have been.  

Here's my current reading list:
  1. White Tiger by Aravind Adiga (currently reading--It is taking a while for the story to get the ball rolling but it is an intriguing plot.  
  2. My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Piccoult (which has been turned into a movie)
  3. The Time Traveler's Wife  
  4. The God of Small Things
  5. The Color of Water
I'm not married to the order.  Let me know if you'd like to read any of these titles with me.  Feel free to make a suggestion. 

4 comments:

To-Fu said...

Yeah, I don't get the impression that Diaz wants to be an elegant writer at all; I think he is deliberately kind of abrasive and... not clumsy, but maybe just rough around the edges.

I've met him, and he talks exactly like he writes. I think your assessment about him being a better short story writer is right on, but I do appreciate him for what he is. I teach his short stories to my students. A favorite of mine to share with them is "Aguantando" from Drown.

I'm sure you've read Sherman Alexie (I love his collection of short stories, The Toughest Indian in the World) and Arundhati Roy (The God of Small Things is wonderful and disturbing, and I would love to hear your take on those writers.

Off to read the rest of your latest posts!

Sabrina said...

I could not get through "Time Traveler's Wife". It's on my book shelf and I've been thinking of getting it on kindle...you know since now I have my iphone, lol. But I found it torture to read. The God of Small things sounds interesting though. I'm going to reserve it from the library.

tifi said...

I love, love, LOVE Jhumpa Lahiri, and I see she pops up on amazon as recommended with The God of Small Things. So, I'll have to read it now. I didn't like "Oscar Wao" at all. I read a few chapters and it just wasn't my style. Maybe I'll try Diaz's short stories. Right now I'm reading The Mayor of Casterbridge now. I want to read Farm City and Half of a Yellow Sun next.

Chi-Chi, The Original Wombman said...

Tifi, you will LOVE half of a Yellow Sun. My goodness . . . one of my all-time favorites!!

To-Fu, you're so spot on . . . Diaz doesn't want to be elegant. I guess there's a charm in that. I haven't read Sherman Alexie but I certainly will. :)

Oh, Sabring, I tried Time Traveler's Wife before and couldn't get past a few pages. I thought maybe it was just because life was too hectic!! I'll try again but I won't push it! :)

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