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Junot Díaz
This is How You Lose Her
Riverhead Press / Penguin Putnam
US Hardcover First Edition
ISBN 978-1-594-48736-1
Publication Date: 09-11-2012
214 Pages; $26.95
Date Reviewed:09-18-2012
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2012

Index:  General Fiction

"I'm not a bad guy," Yunior tells us in "The Sun, the Moon, the Stars," the opening story 'This Is How You Lose Her,' the latest collection of short stories by Junot Díaz. And Yunior, who been with us since 'Drown,' the first collection by Díaz, is indeed not a bad guy. Bad is not the problem. "Guy" is the problem. Yunior is a man, and men, who are good at many things, are bad in their relationships with women. Yunior wants to do better, but he collapses under the gravity of his own desire to do so. He's unable to perceive the effects of his actions on the women he's with. Nothing makes it over his event horizon. And this is how he loses her, again and again.

But though Yunior may not for most of this book have a clue about what to do, his voice — and the other voices, those of the women in his life — are so remarkable, we have little care about what he's doing or why. As readers, we just want to listen to the music of life as it is lived, as Junot Díaz tells it. Every word is rich with humor, with imagination and verve. 'This Is How You Lose Her' is the literary equivalent of the best album of bittersweet love songs you have ever heard, and like that album, it's one you'll be listening to, reading, again and again. Díaz knows how to find the music in language.

The nine stories here are dominated by Yunior's voice. From the opening to the finish, "The Cheater's Guide to Love," Yunior takes us through his troubled life and searing self-education in just what it means to have a relationship with a woman. The stories are funny, bitter, and full of the kind of honesty that is both hilarious and scalding. Few will be able to read these stories without being moved, generally into a zone of great discomfort. But Díaz makes the discomfort paradoxically enjoyable, in the extreme, by virtue of the honesty and accuracy of his observations and the joyous, scarring and scary prose he uses to express them.

The prose here always striking and the psychological nuances are stunning, but so is every other aspect of these stories. In "The Pura Principle," Yunior's brother, dying of cancer, starts acting out. Here, the plotting is careful and casual, as Díaz sneaks up on the readers and smacks us upside the head. "Alma" is a second-person miracle of economy, close to prose poetry but all sinew and snap. Díaz likes a challenge and comes back to the second person in "The Cheater's Guide to Love," a powerful, utterly engaging finish that ends with a different Yunior than the one we met at the beginning of the book.

Ultimately, though, it's impossible, and unnecessary to pull this book apart into stories or voices or modes. For all that 'This Is How You Lose Her' is kith and kin to the great collections of love songs, it is also all of one piece, one vision, one man singing in many voices. The fact that it is funny as hell, disturbingly informed, and unfortunately revealing as regards to how men think and do not think — all that disappears in the pure pleasure of language and reading. 'This Is How You Lose Her' is a perfect portrait of exactly why we read.

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