The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Oh, brief indeed. Too, too brief. At 345 pages, this novel seems short not because it fails to satiate but because it leaves you wanting more. Contrary to what its title suggests, it does not dwell merely on the life of Oscar Wao. Rather, it chronicles the boy’s history (from his grandfather Abelard to his sister Lola), creating an outline of the destructive forces of fukú that have plagued the family for decades and continue to haunt its most recent heir. Oscar is a friendless, overweight writer-geek hoping for a chance at love—or at least sex. Having lived two decades without it, this rare Dominican virgin spends the last spark of his life in fearless pursuit, with memorable consequences.

A very entertaining lesson in continuity, this book is a riveting assortment of fact and fiction, history and hearsay. Most of the time I felt lost in a whirlwind of references, but still the humor did not escape me. Footnotes helped educate me on such personas as Rafael Trujillo, Porfirio Rubirosa, Felix Bernardino—prominent figures in actual Dominican history. But although the narrative is peppered with facts, the author remains largely self-aware of his own contrivance, pays remarkable attention to craft. The novel is well-structured, alternating between characters and perspectives, yet all the time it follows only one narrative. The protagonist varies per chapter, but this does not serve to confuse. Each character stood out clearly. Diaz’s writing easily convinced me that he knew them back and forth. His love for his characters translated into my love for them.

When I first opened this book (borrowed from Danica), I told myself I was too busy to finish it immediately. But its casual, witty tone swept me away. I placed myself completely in the writer’s hands, let him do the driving. It was a rollicking ride, wild and funny and informative. Carol Memmot of USA Today, in a review I want to plagiarize, says: “Few books require a ‘highly flammable’ warning, but…Junot Diaz’s long-awaited first novel will burn its way into your heart and sizzle your senses.” And it is true: I cannot find a more accurate description of this book. It is fiery: in plot, character, setting. I remained affected long after I finished it, scorched by the passion that obviously accompanied its writing. I am sure many others felt the same.

The next day he woke up feeling like he’d been unshackled from his fat, like he’d been washed clean of his misery, and for a long time he couldn’t remember why he felt this way, and then he said her name.

Everything about her present life irked her; she wanted, with all her heart, something else.

That’s life for you. All the happiness you gather to yourself, it will sweep away like it’s nothing. If you ask me I don’t think there are any such things as curses. I think there is only life. That’s enough.

[Belicia], like her yet to be born daughter, would come to exhibit a particularly Jersey malaise—the inextinguishable longing for elsewheres.


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