When he thought about the way she laughed, as though she owned the air around her, his heart thudded inside his chest, a lonely rada.
—Junot Díaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (36)
I wasn’t quite expecting it to be a love story. I’m not sure why, considering that Díaz’s protagonist, Oscar, was only ever craving love. But craving love is not the same thing as a love story. Craving love, sad to say really, is not even the same as deserving love, which in the end, Oscar does. And it goes without saying that, of course, deserving love is not the same as being loved. Alas.
I didn’t expect it maybe because I was distracted by the wonderfully funny and vivid writing of Díaz. I was expecting that, having read This is How You Lose Her a few years back, but, I’m easy I guess. I’ll fall for any story, well told.
In a sense I read these books in the wrong order, but that’s okay, they both stand on their own tierra. Oscar’s story is replete with a complete footnoted history of the Dominican Republic. It’s the sort of history that is so dark it can only be told with the light hand of humor that smacks you out of complete despair every now and then. Every sad history needs a wise-ass. And too, it’s a history that seeks to give a sort of equation to the algebra of Oscar’s brief life and the people who made him. And who doesn’t love an explanation! Something that will equal something. Something to explain the cold, cruel, frustratingly loveless world¹.
So that explains it! Must be a relief. To know. Except, after the relief—there you are again. There Oscar is again—lonely, in pain. And so, Oscar’s heroisms snuck up on me. My heart burst open at its own ill-repaired seams. I don’t want anyone who hasn’t read the book to think it is not devastating—a tragedy. It is. And yet, at the very last, I was so happy for Oscar, I cried.
¹Following the penchant for footnotes: Novels are satisfying that way—as far as reasonable explanations of unreasonable behavior goes. The x’s, y’s and square roots of it—very neat. For myself, I have had to resort to other theories to give me some hope of a solution I have always needed to which there is no algebraic explanation that can decipher or explain the crazy: cat parasites. I refer you here, dear Reader, and here, and here by way of evidence. I might be liable to go off on a wee tangent or two if I’ve had a glass of wine and my daughter is not in hearing distance—she doesn’t want to hear another word of my research into the fascinating and terrifying (take my word for it if you like) topic of toxoplasma-gondii; hell! at least it is an explanation! And yet! and yet, (I make steady progress) the other day we were watching the documentary Grey Gardens and my daughter suddenly mused aloud in abject disbelief over the bat-shit-odd mother and deeply affected daughter, “What? happened??” I simply gave her a look. One look. “Say it and I will kill you,” she threatened. But I didn’t need to say it.