Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao - Junot Diaz

The titular Oscar is a 300-pound-plus "lovesick ghetto nerd" with zero game (except for Dungeons & Dragons) who cranks out pages of fantasy fiction with the hopes of becoming a Dominican J.R.R. Tolkien. The book is also the story of a multi-generational family curse that courses through the book, leaving troubles and tragedy in its wake.
-Excerpt from Review

My Review:
I first heard about this novel when my husband googled it after hearing an interview on NPR's "Fresh Aire." When I saw it sitting around my neighbor's house I asked to borrow it, was really looking forward to reading it, and only put off reading it because I needed to finish library books first. The back of the book says things like"giddily glorious and hauntingly horrific," "full of ideas," "high-energy...exhilarating to re-read," "shot through with wit and insight." How can you not look forward to reading that. And at the beginning of the book there are three more pages of "Praise for The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao."

Um...I so didn't get it.

I found nothing in the book giddy, I found very few ideas, wit, or insight. If there was anything worthwhile about the book it was the historical insights into the modern history of the Dominican Republic and that of the "diaspora" here in the United States. Also, the lesson "be nice to fat people."

Other than that...

The book was pretty much a documentation of Oscar's serious inability to get...(I'll not use the words the book does) "some" - in general contrast to how easy it was for everyone else to get some. I'm just not sure how "fat kid wants to get laid" translates to "wondrous."

As for the insight into Dominican history and culture. The book gives a very unflattering representation into the modern culture that the characters seemed oddly proud of, or covetous and protective of, anyway. Because the author is Dominican I guess this is justified as cultural navel-gazing but for this priviledged little white girl (by that I very un-sarcastically, mean not threatened with rape or exploitation simply by the advent of puberty), with very little exposure to the Dominican culture specifically, it leaves me with a pretty low opinion. So, should I believe that, as this critically acclaimed book illustrates in graphic language (yes, that was my subtle warning that there is a LOT of vulgarity), Dominicans are a totally chauvanistic, sex-driven people? I hate to admit it but I now have to take this into account, though I'm hoping to have future encounters that balance my viewpoint because I do not like what the author portrayed.

In this book there were perhaps two noble characters, and a third on the fence. I just didn't get many good vibes from the rest. Their flaws were simply too severe for me to overlook, despite learning their backgrounds I felt no sympathy for them. I like to think I "get" dark stories that have a literary point, but here I just found a lot of depressing, "hauntingly horrific" experiences that showed the worst in both the perpetrators and the victims. Should I give this book a pass because it is "ethnic" (and NPR likes it)? Or should I call it as I see it?

My rating: 2 stars (I went with calling it as I see it).

In one sentence: Fat kid wants to get laid does not wondrous make.

1 comment:

MindySue said...

i think it's common in today's society--the idea that we're supposed to be impressed by all the flash and bang and somehow miss the fact that whatever we are looking at/reading lacks substance.


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