I read THE BRIEF WONDROUS LIFE OF OSCAR WAO in 2007 just like a good little liberal arts undergraduate who always read the novel that ended up winning the Pulitzer prize later that year. I was blown away by the voice of the piece, I found the book sometimes long and a little chubby with footnotes, overall I could forgive the novel its couple-percentage-points-too-high Body Mass Index because the themes and connections it made really were Pulitzer worthy.

Recently an ARC of THIS IS HOW YOU LOSE HER, Diaz’s five years later followup story collection was provided to me by Penguin’s marketing superstar Lydia Hirt (who also shipped me copies of Clare Vaye Watkins’Ā BATTLEBORN, which you guys know I enjoyed immensely and Emma Straub’s LAURA LAMONT’S LIFE IN PICTURES, which is published today and which I am all kinds of excited to review next week).

THIS IS HOW YOU LOSE HER and OSCAR WAO share the same narrator- DR-born, Jersey-raised irrepressible fuck-up Yunior. Whereas in OSCAR WAO Yunior is the constant narrator but infrequent center of attention, hanging back in the shadows to narrate the so-nuts-it’s-basically-like-all-the-sci-fi-ghetto-nerd-at-the-end-of-the-world-Oscar-likes-so-much curse-and-counterspell-ridden generational saga of the De Leon family, from life under Trujillo to life in Jersey, in THIS IS HOW YOU LOSE HER, Yunior’s connected stories are all his own.

We start with a couple of stories about women, Yunior’s girlfriends, whom he always intends to be faithful to and then always… isn’t. Just when Yunior’s inability to keep his whatever-penis-is-in-Spanish in his pants starts to wear thin, the book shifts. The stories press further, we dig back into Yunior’s past, unpeel the layers, and start to understand how the man who never means to fuck up but always inevitably does came to be this way. “Invierno,” the story of Yunior’s first winter in America as a child is both a hardcore beautiful stand-alone story and a key piece of history that informs our sort-of-hero’s later psychic core. The last story in this book, “The Cheater’s Guide To Love” knocked me for a loop. It’s a truly great story, and it’s a spectacular ending to the book, tying in all emotional information from the stories that proceded it to paint a picture of a man who both digs his own grave and is also pushed into it by his past.

Also, of note, Yunior and Junot Diaz both teach fiction at colleges in Boston, which makes me wonder how many of these stories are fiction-fiction and how much of the work is memoir-hiding-in-fiction’s-clothing. You guys! I can’t help it! I’m nosy! I mean curious! I mean both!

So how to take OSCAR WAO and LOSE HER and make them tear each other’s eyeballs out for the honor of being The Best Junot Book of This Post.

I’m hitting myself in the head right now. I thought I was going to be able to make these books compete to the death in the Book Gladiator Arena and now I just can’t do it. They can’t compete with one another because they are so intrinsically linked by hero, by story, by wrestling-with-big-thematic-questions. It would be like making conjoined twins try to kill each other. I realized how awesome that sounded right as I typed it. But awesome as it may be, it would be wrong, and wrong trumps awesome, sorry amigos and amigas.

OSCAR WAO is gordo-er (that’s fat in Spanish) (the character and the book) but more ambitious and has that Pulitzer going for it. LOSE HER is flaco-er (that’s skinner in Spanish), and streamlining in fiction is sexy, but it just can’t cover all that generation and historical ground, it’s a personal tale, and a pretty great exploration of one magnetic and broken man.

So how do we settle on a winner?

We don’t.

So it’s a tie.

I know tie-ing is cheating. Whatever guys, I did it.

If OSCAR WAO was about the inescapable nature of fate, LOSE HER is about the razor-fine line between fate and choice. If Oscar was about how human disaster is like science fiction, LOSE HER is about how love is a human disaster. Oscar and Yunior are set wide apart on the Grand Spectrum of Characters, but they are united in that they are mired in their flaws, dragged further down the higher they try to climb.

If you liked OSCAR WAO, you really need to read LOSE HER. It’s worth re-reading OSCAR WAO to prep for LOSE HER. Or reading it for the first time, if you haven’t read it, read it! These were my Labor Day weekend books and they chewed me up, spit me out, and left me all chewed-up and spit-soaked in the best way possible.

12 Comments on “THIS IS HOW YOU LOSE HER vs THE BRIEF WONDROUS LIFE OF OSCAR WAO- A Junot Diaz Book Boyfriend-Off”

  1. Erin Harwood says:

    What?! Has OSCAR really been out since 2007 and it’s been on my TBR list this whole time? Grief, what have i been doing for the past five years? And now I have to put LOSE HER on there my list too. Thanks for yet another great review. Readers’ anxiety and all.

  2. Darla Sharp says:

    Fabulous post Kit! I can’t wait to read LOSER HEr–I LOVED Oscar Wao!

  3. Leah says:

    Yikes, I desperately need to read both of these.

  4. Heather says:

    I’m actually reading Oscar Wao right now, and I can’t wait to read Lose Her. Great post!

  5. Great review! I read the first couple of chapters of THIS IS HOW YOU LOSE HER and I really like the voice of it.

  6. nomadreader says:

    I liked but didn’t love Oscar Wao when I read it a few years ago, and I’m not really a fan of short stories, but you may have just convinced me to read this collection. I like the idea of a collection all having the same narrator, particularly one I already sort of know.

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