I picked up Junot Diaz’s “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” today, after waiting to read it for at least six months. Let me tell you right now that it was worth the wait. After Murakami’s “..Wind-Up..” I felt lost for what to read next. I needed something accessible yet literary. I tried Sedaris, but his collection was disappointing. I tried Faulkner, but I’m not ready for his style of stream-of-consciousness right now.
Diaz is spectacular for several reasons. The first, and in my opinion the most important, is that the writing is confident. I’m going to spoil the novel a bit for you and say that the narrator is not the author, though at first it seems like he is. I can’t tell you who the narrator is, but the asides (in footnotes), are amazing. This novel reads like an encyclopedia for nerds. What’s most interesting is that the narrator sympathizes with Oscar, and like Oscar, is a nerd in his/her own right. There’s a wonderfully compassionate tone to the writing, even when it describes Oscar’s trials and tribulations as the fat loser. It’s a beautiful meditation on what it means to be both an immigrant and an outcast.
The second reason I like this novel is the constant references to what the narrator calls “the Genres,” aka geek culture. For anyone who was ever slightly unpopular, uncool, or flat out lonely in the early years of school, this novel strikes a chord.
The third reason is that throughout all this, Diaz manages to instill the work with a focus on the political and historical aspects of immigrant life, especially that of Dominican immigrants.
The fourth and most obvious reason is that the title is superb.
There’s so much unbridled energy throughout this work that it made me want to go home and write. The novel instills confidence. It reminds me of reading Nabokov, though reading Nabokov never instills confidence.
If I were to describe this novel in one word, that word would be “raucous.”
I got about a third of the way through today. I’ll write more after I finish in the next couple of days.