This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz; Riverhead, 213 pages ($26.95). At the risk of being peremptory and downright presumptuous, get this. If you care even a whit about the vitality of current American literature, that is.
Junot Diaz has not exactly maintained a Joyce Carol Oates schedule in his output. His much-hosannaed short story collection "Drown" was published in 1996. Eleven years later came his even-more-praised Pulitzer Prize novel "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao." That one got him a spot on the Pulitzer Board, a thoroughly comprehensible development for the writer who is probably the most vigorous to arrive here as an immigrant from an island South of Key West. And now five years after "Wao," we have a new story collection, albeit one that seems ravingly autobiographical from a Dominican-American writer whose daily bread is earned by teaching at MIT.
It is tough, street-wise, heart-rending, funny as hell and, on a page-to-page basis, just about as readable as any writer his age (42) we've got at the moment. It has a theme - cheating and its consequences, both melancholy and riotous. It begins with a superb story, "The Sun, the Moon and the Sky," about a fellow who denies his girlfriend's contention that he's "a typical Dominican man, a sucio, an a------" who cheats serially. It ends with "The Cheater's Guide to Love" about a compulsive philanderer whose extracurricular life over six years totaled 50 "girls" all discovered by Magdalena because he never deleted their emails.
The stories seem to play tag with what we know of his life. The writer's real nickname is "Yunior." It's also the nickname of the narrator of "Oscar Wao" and the stories. The writer had back surgery. The protagonist of "Cheater's Guide" ends up with back problems. The writer too has told interviewers that a long-term romance went south painfully.
If Diaz's life and art from the Dominican Republic, New Jersey, New York and Boston weren't such an apparent juggling act from a thoroughly anachronistic sideshow, you might connect its ruefully funny street authority with Chicago literary roughnecks of another time - James T. Farrell and Nelson Algren, both legendarily successful novelists whose less-remembered short stories were, if not the novels' equals, quite possibly their vernacular superior.
Many first appeared in The New Yorker, which shows you how establishmentarian is the hunger for a writer from the New America, whose urban characters still surround their beds with mosquito netting in the dead of winter.
- Jeff Simon