Monday, October 15, 2012
Fiction: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
Source: GoodReads First Look
Read: for review (disclaimer: I received my copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)
Reading time: five days
From the back cover: Oscar is a sweet but disastrously overweight ghetto nerd, a New Jersey romantic who dreams of becoming the Dominican J.R.R. Tolkein and, most of all, of finding love. But Oscar may never get what he wants. Blame the fuku - a curse that has haunted Oscar's family for generations, following them on their epic journey from the Dominican Republic to the United States and back again.
My review: My thoughts for the first 50 pages: this guy is just like Sherman Alexie*, only writing about Dominican Diaspora life rather than American Indian reservation life. Hilarious, satirical, occasionally self-deprecating, a bit crude; has a way with words that hooks the reader and makes them appreciate the book not just for the content, but also for the writing. After about 50 pages, this excellence in writing continued, but I began to be able to differentiate between Diaz's and Alexie's styles.
I absolutely loved the author's sidenotes, generally rather tongue-in-cheek, giving historical details about Dominican life, especially during the reign of Trujillo. Dictators are so easy to satirize for some reason. For the first part of the book, I felt like I could identify very well with Oscar (minus the overweight Dominican male aspect, as I'm none of those). Sci-fi/fantasy geek, lacks great social skills, can't get a date - the archetype of nerds everywhere, and not what I had been expecting from a Dominican-American protagonist.
But...after a while, like the first 2/3 or so of the novel, things got old and my enthusiasm lagged. The footnotes stopped (why?! those were some of my favorite parts!) and, as he grew older, Oscar wasn't quite so likeable anymore. The conclusion, especially how it related to the fuku and other fantastic elements, didn't seem to be completely coherent. Given how excellent the rest of the book was, I ended up being somewhat disappointed by the build-up of the last chapters, though at least the final pages were sweet and gave a good sense of closure.
Maturity factor: profanity, non-explicit sex, crudity
*If you think this is completely untrue, blame on the fact that, regrettably, the only book by Alexie that I've read is The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, and that was a couple years ago.