Sunday, March 30, 2008

Oscar Wao

Just finished The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Really enjoyed it. Mr. Diaz doesn't need me to recommend him, of course. He's done very nicely for himself. This one walked away with the National Book Critics Circle Award, and was on tons of other top lists as well. (I wouldn't be surprised if we see his name linked to another award also...) I was a fan of his earlier collection of short stories, Drown. I've actually taught from it quite a bit, with an emphasis on his use of voice.

There's plenty of voice at play in Oscar Wao as well. Diaz's narrator is irreverent, profane, funny, over-sexed, learned, confessional, both a character in the book and overtly the writer of it. Diaz bends a lot of narrative rules here, but it works.

Partially, it works because he never looses sight of his characters and the power of their stories. Oscar Wao - fat, geeky, sci-fi/fantasy loving weirdo virgin at the center of this - is really just one character of importance. Diaz layers in the family history - particularly of the women - in a way that adds depth and complexity and unfolding surprises throughout.

It also works because of the historical/cultural setting that is so much a part of what this novel is about. What do you know about the Dominican Republic? Not much, huh? Do you know your fukú? Heard about President Rafael Leónidas Trujillo? Maybe a little? Well, reading this book provides a quick, subversive jaunt through that crazy time in a nation not really so far away from the Ole USA - a history we influenced in various unsavory ways.

And it works because... well, did I mention sci-fi and fantasy? Big part of this book. It often takes the form of asides that compare and contrast key moments with characters from genre classics like The Lord of the Rings and role playing games like and Dungeons and Dragons and Gamma World. It's clear the Diaz knows his stuff, and I'm happy to see what must have been early influences on him emerge in his writing. Will he ever really take the plunge and write sci-fi/fantasy - as opposed to just referencing sci-fi/fantasy? My guess is that's unlikely. A bit risky, you know...

Here's what the NY Times had to say.

And the Washington Post.

Here's a Bookslut interview with the author.

I came across this YouTube video also. It's long, but if you want to hear the guy talk a bit take a listen...

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Blogger Strength/Courage/Wisdom said...

Thanks for posting this. I finished that book two weeks ago and LOVED IT!! I've read a few of the stories in 'Drown' and enjoyed them as well.

9:07 PM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

Glad you liked it. I know that no one book is for everyone, and I know some people will find things not to like about Junot's work. But I think there are plenty of ways that it's engaging, and I'm happy to mention it if it points some new readers his way.

Strange act of charity on my part, considering the number of books he's sold. It would have a much greater impact on my life if he recommended ME to his fans, but what can you do?... Keep the karma good, I guess. That's what I'm doing.

5:15 PM  

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