Monday, March 23, 2009

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Díaz, Junot. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. NY: Riverhead Books, 2007.

R. Stuhr

This is Díaz's first novel. His previous publication is a collection of short stories, Drown.

This story is narrated by a friend of Oscar's family and is written after Oscar's death. Oscar is a Dominican-American youth who is a seriously overweight, love lorn writer and reader of fantasy and science fiction. The novel is a history of Oscar's disappointing life, his mother, her family and its curse, and the violent and tragic history of the Dominican Republic. Díaz sprinkles the novel with long foot notes that explain historical events and people from the DR, primarily from the time of Trujillo. The narrator sprinkles allusions to Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, anime, and other science fiction or fantasy works in keeping with Oscar's own interests.

Oscar's weight and geeky interests keep him from connecting with women in a way that is expected of, according to the narrator, Dominican men. His state of virginity haunts him and drives him deeper into his solitary geekiness. Towards the end of the novel, Oscar falls in love with an aging Dominican prostitute and this passion speeds him toward his inevitably violent end.

This is not an easy novel to describe or summarize. It's a look at diaspora, the pain of being a teenager and especially of being excluded, family relationships, and love and loss. The combination of fierce women, the sorrowful Oscar, and the almost-anything-goes, living-life-to-the-fullest narrator make for a meaningful and entertaining novel.

Burling Library PS3554.I259 B75 2007

Drown: Burling Library PS3554.I259 D76 1996

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