Friday, April 17, 2009

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

I began reading The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz with very high expectations. It has received tons of critical acclaim (including receiving the Pulitzer Prize), and is raved about by a number of friends whose literary opinions I hold in high regard. I knew nothing about the book itself, though, and when I thoroughly enjoyed the beginning chapters I thought I was in for a treat. Unfortunately I found it really never went anywhere, and I think it'll be one of those books that I don't think about much now that I'm through with it.

The book tells the story of Oscar de Leon, a fat, nerdy kid from the Dominican Republic growing up in Paterson, NJ. Oscar's family is not just any immigrant family, however; they may or may not have had a powerful fuku, or curse, levied upon them by the former dictator of the DR. If you believe in the fuku, much of Oscar's story was pre-determined by the actions of his maternal grandfather and, later, by Oscar's mother. Oscar is simply playing out the part that was written, living out his slothful, sci-fi-loving dork-life, and making tragically poor decisions along the way.

Diaz is a talented writer, with a casual style peppered with Spanish slang (much of which is clearly Dominican colloquialism I'd never heard before) and sentence fragments. He references Dungeons & Dragons, The Lord of the Rings, and Shakespeare with equal agility, and somehow manages to make it all feel organic to the story. I can imagine his short stories are deserving of their praise, but I found his various devices less and less compelling by the end of the novel.

Next up: teen vampire romance novel Twilight, which I begin with far lower expectations.

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