“This Is How You Lose Her”: A cheater in love

Junot Diaz's irresistible new book traces a womanizer's rocky journey to maturity

Topics: What to Read, Books, Editor's Picks, Fiction, Junot Diaz,

"This Is How You Lose Her": A cheater in loveJunot Diaz

“You really should write the cheater’s guide to love,” a friend says to Yunior, the primary character running through the stories in Junot Díaz’s new collection, “This Is How You Lose Her.” Yunior doesn’t, but Díaz has. “This Is How You Lose Her” traces Yunior’s very rocky path to the understanding that women are people whose dignity and feelings matter as much as his own — as opposed to interchangeable cogs in the supply line of sex.

Yunior, who figured prominently in Díaz’s celebrated debut collection, “Drown,” isn’t as endearing as the title character in “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,” his Pulitzer-winning 2007 novel — but then, who is? Yunior is a reluctant adult, prone to selfishness and preoccupation with his own sufferings, like many people in their 20s trying to sort out how to live. Much of his romantic blundering stems from the male examples surrounding him in his youth: a father who made the kid wait in the car while he went on “pussy runs” and a handsome older brother, Rafa, who went through girls the way most teenage boys go through kleenex. One of Yunior’s girlfriends reports that her friends blame his infidelity on his background: “I cheated because I’m Dominican and all us Dominican men are dogs and can’t be trusted.”

Born in the DR, raised in a New Jersey housing project and destined to be a Rutgers-educated university teacher, Yunior, like his creator, inhabits a world where ethnic, religious and national identities mix and match. He dates Dominicans, Colombians, a Cubana, “negras” and the occasional “whitegirl.” The familiar tropes of immigrant literature dictate that this sort of thing leads to a “divided self,” a man who bounces painfully back and forth between his roots and his chosen way of life.

Díaz doesn’t go there. Just like that nerd supreme, Oscar Wao, he sees no reason to view his literary passions as alien to the community in which he grew up. He claims mainstream culture, for all its lingering racism, as his own, fusing Spanglish with references to Herman Melville and “Star Trek” while telling stories about hospital workers and law students. Such is the centripetal force of Díaz’s sensibility and the slangy bar-stool confidentiality of his voice that he makes this hybridization feel not only natural and irresistible, but inevitable, the voice of the future.

You Might Also Like

What holds all this seemingly disparate stuff together is love and desire — for his “boys” (buddies), for his brother, for comic books, for Samuel Delany and James Joyce and Pablo Neruda, and above all for the old neighborhood and for Santo Domingo, whose crazy traffic Yunior describes thus: “the entire history of late-20th-century automobiles swarming across every flat stretch of ground, a cosmology of battered cars, battered motorcycles, battered trucks and battered buses, and an equal number of repair shops, run by any fool with a wrench.”

But while expansive and inclusive affections are well and good in most areas of life, when it comes to romantic love, they often lead to catastrophe. Yunior, though a player of note, is a failure in matters of the heart because his heart remains uncharted territory. In the book’s final and most accomplished story, “The Cheater’s Guide to Love,” his fiancée discovers evidence of fifty (!) dalliances in his email trash can and dumps his ass. He can’t get over it, is submerged in a depression “so profound you doubt there is a name for it. You feel like you’re being slowly pincered apart, atom by atom.”

The linked-story structure of “This is How You Lose Her” does keep it from offering complete satisfaction. Why, you can’t help wondering, does it stop just shy of being a novel, given that so much of its effect is cumulative? Most of the stories depict the same character, with minor variations, making his way to maturity. Some of these depend for their impact on their predecessors. “The Pura Principle,” for example, about Rafa’s mortal battle with cancer, follows several earlier stories that show him using women in one way or another, including his own mother. Finally, in extremis, he is the needer instead of the needed, and he picks a girl who uses him, as if he’s lost the ability to conceive of a relationship working any other way.

Yunior’s less of a hard case, but he has a long road to travel before he grasps that to trust he must first be trustworthy — or, as he puts it, what a “chickenshit coward” he’s been. Yet while Díaz strongly implies a continuous narrative line extending through the collection, he seems hesitant to fully commit to it. (Hmmm.) At the end of “A Cheater’s Guide to Love,” Yunior sits down with a bound copy, compiled by his ex, of the printouts of all the incriminating emails and other evidence of his cheating. (He dubs this “the Doomsday Book,” and she mailed it to him with a note saying “for your next book.” You can see why he calls her “a bad-ass salcedeña.”) It’s a single, damning tale instead of a bunch of miscellaneous transgressions, and this finally prompts the necessary breakthrough. I can’t help wishing Díaz had made “This is How You Lose Her” into something similarly unified.

However, call this a quibble, as the reader can more or less do the work herself. If this collection occasionally stutters, more often than not it sings. It has wizardly character sketches like this: “My mom wasn’t the effusive type anyway, had one of those event-horizon personalities — shit just fell into her and you never really knew how she felt about it. She just seemed to take it, never gave off anything, no heat, no light.” It mourns all the opportunities for tenderness human beings pass up in the pursuit of vanity. It manages to be achingly sad and joyful at the same time. Its heart is true, even if Yunior’s isn’t.

Laura Miller

Laura Miller is a senior writer for Salon. She is the author of "The Magician's Book: A Skeptic's Adventures in Narnia" and has a Web site, magiciansbook.com.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Martyna Blaszczyk/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 1

    Pond de l'Archeveche - hundreds thousands of padlocks locked to a bridge by random couples, as a symbol of their eternal love. After another iconic Pont des Arts bridge was cleared of the padlocks in 2010 (as a safety measure), people started to place their love symbols on this one. Today both of the bridges are full of love locks again.

    Anders Andersson/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 2

    A bird's view of tulip fields near Voorhout in the Netherlands, photographed with a drone in April 2015.

    Aashit Desai/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 3

    Angalamman Festival is celebrated every year in a small town called Kaveripattinam in Tamil Nadu. Devotees, numbering in tens of thousands, converge in this town the day after Maha Shivratri to worship the deity Angalamman, meaning 'The Guardian God'. During the festival some of the worshippers paint their faces that personifies Goddess Kali. Other indulge in the ritual of piercing iron rods throughout their cheeks.

    Allan Gichigi/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 4

    Kit Mikai is a natural rock formation about 40m high found in Western Kenya. She goes up the rocks regularly to meditate. Kit Mikai, Kenya

    Chris Ludlow/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 5

    On a weekend trip to buffalo from Toronto we made a pit stop at Niagara Falls on the Canadian side. I took this shot with my nexus 5 smartphone. I was randomly shooting the falls themselves from different viewpoints when I happened to get a pretty lucky and interesting shot of this lone seagull on patrol over the falls. I didn't even realize I had captured it in the shot until I went back through the photos a few days later

    Jassen T./National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 6

    Incredibly beautiful and extremely remote. Koehn Lake, Mojave Desert, California. Aerial Image.

    Howard Singleton/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 7

    Lucky timing! The oxpecker was originally sitting on hippo's head. I could see the hippo was going into a huge yawn (threat display?) and the oxpecker had to vacate it's perch. When I snapped the pic, the oxpecker appeared on the verge of being inhaled and was perfectly positioned between the massive gaping jaws of the hippo. The oxpecker also appears to be screeching in terror and back-pedaling to avoid being a snack!

    Abrar Mohsin/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 8

    The Yetis of Nepal - The Aghoris as they are called are marked by colorful body paint and clothes

    Madeline Crowley/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 9

    Taken from a zodiac raft on a painfully cold, rainy day

    Ian Bird/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 10

    This wave is situated right near the CBD of Sydney. Some describe it as the most dangerous wave in Australia, due to it breaking on barnacle covered rocks only a few feet deep and only ten metres from the cliff face. If you fall off you could find yourself in a life and death situation. This photo was taken 300 feet directly above the wave from a helicopter, just as the surfer is pulling into the lip of the barrel.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>