Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The David Bowie Project, The Good: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

One of the struggles of reading someone else's favorite books is that you are bound to run into an entry or two (or twelve) that you hate (see my previous post). However, at their best, these lists can lead you to literary gems that, for one reason or another, you missed.  Such was the case with Junot Diaz's The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.

I had heard wonderful things about Oscar Wao for years, but I had never made an earnest effort to read it.  To be honest, I was put off by the "science fiction nerd" motif. I wasn't convinced that I would be able to pick up on all of the references; my Dungeons and Dragons knowledge begins and ends with Stranger Things.  While these references pulled me out of my reading on occasion, as did the colloquial use of Spanish, but I soon discovered The Annotated Oscar Wao and was able to cross-reference my reading with the explanatory notes on the site.

Oscar Wao tells the story of a first-generation Dominican-American name Oscar de Leon who is perennially unlucky in love.  Oscar is too fat, too interested in science fiction, and too intensely devoted to girls who are out of his league.

The novel isn't just about Oscar's romantic woes. Instead, Oscar's failures with the opposite sex become the point of contrast that reveals the immigration narrative of the Cabral-de Leon family.  Through a series of flashbacks, we realize that failed relationships, and their violent fallout, plague the Cabral-de Leon clan.  In many ways, the waxing and waning of the novel's romantic relationship mirror the tumultuous course of twentieth century Dominican History.

Beyond the strength of its symbolism, the novel's chatty narrative-- peppered with allusions to classic nerd culture, "Spanglish," and a litany of  expository footnotes-- is intoxicating, like an animated conversation with an old friend.

Though, as its title suggests, the novel doesn't offer its readers any happy endings, it does in fact leave us with a story that is both wondrous and, sadly, too brief.