Book 76 Completed
Okay. I finally completed The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz.
I think you can probably tell by my laziness in finishing, that I wasn’t completely engaged in the book — I didn’t find myself needing to read it or trying to hide away to gobble up certain chapters. That doesn’t mean that I didn’t like it…I just didn’t love it. And when it comes to the book winning a Pulitzer prize, I have to admit I don’t really get it. BUT there is a lot in this book worth exploring and, again, I’ll mention — I kinda wish I could teach it.
Of course, the book is derivative of lots of other type of fiction out there right now — Chabon comes to mind. But I can’t say with any type of certainty that Diaz was attempting to write a book that would appeal to the same group of readers. Although, I can say that fans fast-talking narrators, who enjoy a little magical realism, and a lot of sex, will find a lot to admire in this book. (Okay, okay…there wasn’t a lot of sex.) I also thought that Diaz was trying a bit too hard to be that writer — it was a little too self-conscious of its own craftiness. If that makes sense. I’m sure I’ve mentioned this for other books this year, but I get distracted as a reader when I start to picture an author sitting as his computer, crafting a particularly long and convoluted sentence, and sitting back with a certain degree of smugness. Some paragraphs oozed smugness. Meh.
I have to admit, I read A LOT of complaints about the use (or overuse) of Spanish, and I didn’t find the Spanish distracting to the book at all. As a matter of fact, based on the Spanish in the book, I know a lot more Spanish than I thought I did (yeah, that’s right, you don’t work in my district without learning the word ‘puta’) — and I was able to use those all-important reading strategies I teach my kiddos to decipher large chunks of meaning from the Spanish passages without cracking open a dictionary once.
What I DID find distracting were the intermittent footnotes. Ugh. I felt the that their tone didn’t match the rest of the book and that the attempt to spell out historical allusions for me was a little unnecessary; give readers some credit here. I may not be well versed in the politics of the Dominican Republic, but I’m a twenty-first century reader with Google at my fingertips. If Diaz’s references were causing me confusion and interfering with my understanding of the book, I’d figure it out. Instead, the footnotes just seemed condescending and out-of-place. (Hey, but I appreciate that he didn’t feel led to explain all his sci-fi allusions too…because that would have been just downright cringe-worthy. Like I’m not going to get a Saruman reference? Puh-leeze.)
Okay…so, for some positives. I liked Yunior and Lola — our two narrators. I thought the back story of Belicia was engaging. Oscar’s own life wasn’t really the pull for me…but I think that was kind of the point. This book says a lot about culture and how we are defined through our lives. It also speaks volumes about immigration and trying to fit-in — I feel like everyone in this book is trying to assimilate to an ambiguous standard; something many of us can relate to in our lives. Again, the themes and characters are so TEACHABLE…but, alas, when your main character’s life goal is to get laid, that can be a hard-sell to the school board.
So, to summarize: It’s faulty, but not without redeeming qualities. Sorry it took me so long to read it! But…as you can tell from the other post…we’ve been busy over here.
Okay. Honduras. Mexico. The US. And Canada. 18 days. Four books. Let the countdown begin…