A Brief and Cynical Review

Posted on August 15, 2011

The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

Oscar Wao is a fat, nerdy virgin. And he seems doomed to stay that way. Which is certainly odd because he is Dominican and Dominican men bang all sorts of gals. Chalk it up to a fuku (curse) put on them by Trujillo. Will Oscar make it as a science fiction writer? Or is he doomed to the friend zone for the rest of his life? Junot Diaz gives us a portrait of the factors that allegedly led up to Oscar’s unfortunate situation.

First thing’s first. I’m inherently skeptical of any book where the protagonist wants to be a writer. Too meta for me. Although that doesn’t really come up all that often in this work, I have always felt that once you have a main character who is trying to be a writer, then you’ve started writing for writers. Can’t stand it.

I’d also like to take this time to announce that I’m done. Not with writing book reviews but with novels that use family history to explain a protagonists contemporary situation. It’s tedious. Good writing is a marriage of characters, plot and prose. Any family-history novel is just an excuse for an author to show off his prose. The plot of this book? Virtually non-existent. Yes, things happen. But in terms of story arch?

Instead of really getting into the meat of the protagonist, we get a couple character studies. We meet sisters, grandmothers, generals, lazy boyfriends. Just when I was getting into the story he would pull it back to another time, place and character.

And in terms of prose, I really wasn’t that impressed. There weren’t phrases that made my teeth melt or sentences that made me go ‘dang, I should put that in my AIM profile’. There was a lot of Spanish. And you know what? That Spanish was intermingled with English!

Don’t worry though, there’s sex. Some of it underage! So you have that to look for.

Okay I’m starting to get cynical. But what I got from this novel was the same thing that I have felt has infected just about every contemporary ‘literary’ novel. There is too much of a focus on rhapsodic prose. Characters are written to be interesting but rarely do interesting things. And a plot that, in this case quite literally, goes nowhere.

Sorry Diaz. I had actually put off reading this book because this is pretty much what I thought I was going to get. Then I heard that there was nerdiness involved. I feel let down.

That being said, if you are a fan of family-history (I don’t know the term for it and I don’t really care) novels and Spanish-baroque writing, then The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao might just be for you.

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