Introducing a likely contender for my year-end worst-of, This is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz. As a fellow Cannonball Reader pointed out, things had taken a downturn for me prior to this, with three 1s in a row, and along comes Diaz to place some extra-added emphasis on that fact.
Whether it be a film, television show, or book, it’s not often that my hate alone is enough to sustain me. Which is to say, I’m generally not one for a hate-watch or, in this case, hate-read. Although, on occasion, my combined rage and disbelief are enough to fuel me the entire way. This was one of those instances.
Going based off the title, my expectations were merely for your conventional breakup story; instead, I got one populated by cheating, sex-obsessed men who treat woman as disposable, interchangeable objects. This is How You Lose Her, Diaz. On that much, you are correct.
Unless you’re dating a woman with no self-respect, she’s not about to put up with you sleeping around on her, then having the gall to make yourself out to be a good guy still (as happens in the opening bit). Furthermore, you deserve to lose her.
Some people aren’t programmed to be monogamous, to marry, or, taking a step further, to love at all. Ben Folds has renounced the institution of marriage, saying it’s not for him, as his numerous failed marriages go to show, and the men in these pages should do the same, only exchange “marriage” with “women.”
Because it’s not just their infidelities that make them unfit partners, but their overall personality. Some of them have such a skewed perception of self (i.e., the aforementioned “good guy”) that I wouldn’t hesitate to request they put themselves in therapy. And all of them have a twisted sense of what is right and wrong, and of the world as a whole.
There’s not even a single redemptive factor in these men’s favor. Together, they further the inaccurate perception of men as uncaring, sexist womanizers, and the perception that woman are nothing but a moist place to stick your member.* I’m not arguing that this is Diaz’s intent, but it is an incidental byproduct of writing a story such as this.
Neither am I saying his characters must be bastions of feminism, or even likable. My issue is that they’re so thoroughly unlikable, and the story is so thoroughly them, that it left me no fertile ground in which to root myself in this story. The characters, narration, plot, etc. all offended me on some level as a man and a member of the human race.
The resulting effect of This is How You Lose Her is Diaz lost me as a reader. I don’t intend to say I won’t read another of his books, since I had actually checked out The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao prior to this, and still need to read it. But it does for him what My Winnipeg did for its director, Guy Maddin. It made it impossible for me not to, from here on in, expect the worst.
Diaz’s debut could be for him what Brand Upon the Brain was for Maddin, that rare work which is able to break through my inherent bias, but I’m expecting there’ll be as many exceptions for him as there were for Maddin, whose Brand Upon the Brain remains the only hit for me among his many swings-and-misses.
We’ll see, but before I read it I’ll exhaust all my other remaining options (The Miseducation of Cameron Post, A Dirty Job, The Green Mile). And if it turns out to be more of the same, well then I’ll be as predisposed to avoid Diaz from here on in as I am Maddin.
*”Moist” and “member” are both words friends of mine object to, so I couldn’t resist working the two of them into the same sentence.
Travis Smith’s blog, containing this review, as well as others, photography, and more, can be found here.
I did a review of this book in CBR4 which you might want to read for a different viewpoint, even if you don’t agree with it. You can find it here: http://cannonballread4.wordpress.com/?s=Junot+Diaz. I had earlier read Oscar Wao (which I found difficult, even painful, to read, but very daring and ultimately a rewarding experience (in both the political and literary sense). It took me a long time after reading “This is How You Lose Her” to figure out why Junot wanted to piss me off the way he did, but I’m glad I took that time, even re-reading much of the book. Clearly you let Junot get under your skin too–as he undoubtedly meant to–without considering WHY he wanted to get under your skin the way he did. I think Junot intended to provoke a strong reaction as a way of getting his readers to consider why people –particularly from the strata he is culturally familiar with–do what they do. I truly don’t believe it was meant as a defense of the kind of behavior he depicts–it is much too pathetic for that. Anyway, some additional thoughts perhaps worth considering.
Whatever his reasons, I have no interest in reading a book that’s all about despicable people doing despicable things. On top of that, I didn’t see the growth you speak of in your review. I fully expected these characters to continue on, unaffected by everything that’d happened, just as despicable as ever. Maybe I was too clouded by my distaste for them and their actions, like you suggest, to notice the signs of progress. I mean, I was too put off to really care about much besides getting the book over and done with.
And I ended up just giving Oscar Wao a glance before deciding I didn’t have the patience for it. I also don’t intend ever to read another one of his books. Nor to even re-read This is How You Lose Her. He’s just pretty clearly not my sort of author.