Junot Díaz & Difficult Characters

Junot DiazJunot Díaz, fellow New Jerseyan and one of America’s top young writers, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao(2007) and a certified MacArthur Foundation “genius,” is interviewed in the fall 2014 issue of Glimmer Train. Last year, he published a book of short stories, This is How You Lose Her. (This is the book a friend of mine starts reading whenever she and her husband have a disagreement.)

“She’s sensitive, too. Takes to hurt the way water takes to paper.”(TIHYLH)

About his recurring character Yunior, who narrates much of sci-fi addict Oscar’s story, and who also features in the short story collection, Díaz says “He is the classic dumb-ass character who makes all the right mistakes to produce, for me, in my mind, great stories.” Yunior shares some biographical details with Díaz, a parallelism that he believes makes writing—or reading—a little easier. “You get free heavy lifting from readers . . . by blurring that line between fiction and biography, a confusion that adds an extra serving of real to the tale.” Getting readers to do some of the work for him, some of the world-creation that keeps them on the page, is especially important in fiction, he believes, when writers “are asking them to confuse our work for the world and often to connect to characters who are difficult.”

“Dude wore his nerdiness like a Jedi wore his light saber or a Lensman her lens. Couldn’t have passed for Normal if he’d wanted to.”(BWL)

“Her rage filled the house, flat stale smoke. It got into everything, into our hair and our food, like the fallout they talked to us about in school that would one day drift down soft as snow.”(BWL)

Junot DiazOne of the ways Yunior is difficult is in his relations with women, his infidelities, and his objectification of women, and Díaz explains that he includes that aspect of his character because it’s “one of the standard ways our culture operates.” Díaz gets some blowback on this, and says the shock of recognition when readers see this aggressively masculine point-of-view on the page “in what I think is so honest a way, it often repels us in ways that the very presence of it in our real lives doesn’t. . . . It’s as if it’s only in this book where these guys exist.”

“You can never run away. Not ever. The only way out is in.”(BWL)

While the writer of the Door Stop Novels blog called Brief Wondrous Life “incredibly offensive,” she added, “it is also absolutely one of the funniest books I have ever read in my life.” Her bottom line: “I think that is what I like most about Díaz —the man goes for broke.” He isn’t writing allegory, with a lot of message overlaid about his real political views; he isn’t writing religious. He is describing the worldviews of very particular people, and it’s in the detailed rendering of those views that make people love or hate his work, but, either way, to believe it’s real.

“The half-life of love is forever.”(TIHYLH)