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This is How You Lose Her

by Junot Diaz

About.com Rating 4 Star Rating

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This is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz
© Riverhead Books
Riverhead Books, 2012

Junot Diaz's Yunior is back again in his latest short story collection This is How You Lose Her. The last time we saw Yunior, he was a college student in the background of Diaz's best-selling The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Before that, he narrated several stories in Drown, Diaz's first short story collection. In This is How You Lose Her, the reader sees Yunior at various points in his life, from adolescence to adulthood.

The book is foremost about Yunior's inability to remain faithful to any woman he is dating. His unfaithfulness runs the gambit, from a few one night stands to, in the final story, having a relationship with fifty women during the six-year relationship he had with the woman of his dreams. This story, "The Cheater's Guide to Love," is one of the most poignant in the collection. Diaz takes us on Yunior's five year journey after that break-up, and readers watch him try to pick himself up and learn how to love again, with the help of some friends along the way.

It quickly becomes clear that Yunior's infidelity is a genetic issue, as he casually mentions his father's and brother's liaisons. But there are underlying issues at work here, as well. Readers can pull away the layers of lying, cheating, and dating to watch Yunior's brother, Rafa, slowly, painfully die of cancer as the book moves forward. At first mention, Rafa is a rough and tough guy who plays women just like his father, and Yunior is the inexperienced one, watching his brother from afar. But as the stories move on, Rafa becomes weaker and weaker, and towards the end of his life, even Yunior can take him in a fight, which is an extreme reversal of roles for both brothers.

Yunior's relationship with women is inextricably intertwined with the relationship he has with his brother, and at times, they even share the same woman. His older lovers try to get Yunior to talk about the pain, while his younger ones help him get his mind off of it.
Also ever-present is his relationship with his mother - the one woman he does not want to hurt. When Rafa runs away with his illicit lover and comes back to steal money from their mother, Yunior is enraged and rips the bank out of his dying brother's hands. Yunior has watched his mother, once colorful and cheerful in the Dominican Republic, continuously decline in America, and he is careful to not leave her like his father did. The readers see the family's first few weeks in America when the boys were still young - how unfamiliar everything was to them, and how non-accepting people were. Clearly, the narrator's keen sense of other people's opinions of him and his family is something that follows him throughout life.

From the beginning, the relationship between the narrator and reader is a close one. Diaz blurs the boundaries, at times speaking directly to us. The novel begins with an assertion that that narrator would like the reader to believe: "I'm not a bad guy. I know how that sounds - defensive, unscrupulous - but it's true. I'm like everybody else: weak, full of mistakes, but basically good." He did not want to be an unfaithful man, we learn, but his genes and his weak character got in the way. And he does, indeed, become a sympathetic character as the novel goes on.

Diaz's voice is unmistakable as he peppers his prose with Spanish words and phrases ("Pero, hermano, why'd you tell her?"). It is clear that Diaz had fun with language and syntax. He plays with points of view, so that at certain times, you, the reader, become Yunior: "Today you come back from a run to find her on the stoop, talking to la Dona. Your mother calls you. Say hello to the profesora."
Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.
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