Saturday 14 November 2015

Oscar Wao

This is going to be the very brief mention of 'The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao' by Junot Diaz because it is now quite some time since I finished reading it. 

It was quite a demanding book, and one that made me eternally grateful for a life that has been utterly devoid of random violence, since it seems to be an everyday feature of Oscar's. Although he is supposedly the central character the book revolves much more around the lives of La Inca (his great-grandmother), Beli, (his mother) and his sister Lola, and seems to be narrated in part by the long term, on-again-off-again boyfriend of Lola. The story skates back and forth from some run down corner of America to a run down corner of the Dominican Republic, relating the history of the three women and how they manage to keep a grip on life, when it is trying very hard to push them under. ( I learned a heck of a lot about the history of the Dominican Republic too; there are copious footnotes in the early parts of the book giving all sorts of interesting cultural and political background.) And Oscar sits there somewhat oblivious, in his own nerdy world of fantasy writing, hoping vainly that some day a woman will come into his life and make it worthwhile. It is written almost entirely in what we middle class people politely call 'vernacular' (and a copious scattering of Spanish too), which meant that some of it went right over my head and I occasionally had to guess what they were talking about, and I spent much of the time wondering if people really talk like that. It was almost like reading science fiction, they could have been on another planet for all their lives, attitudes and experiences had in common with mine. But then that's why they invented novels, and if they don't kick you out of your comfort zone occasionally then you're probably doing it wrong.

This is where the boyfriend (who's name I can't remember) has offered to room with Oscar at college to 'keep an eye on him':

"Point is when her brother lapsed into that killer depression at the end of sophomore year - drank two bottles of 151 because some girl dissed him - almost fucking killed himself, and his sick mother in the process, who do you think stepped up?
Surprised the shit out of Lola when I said I'd live with him the next year. Keep an eye on the fucking dork for you. After the suicide drama nobody in Demarest wanted to room with homeboy, was going to have to spend junior year by himself; no Lola, either, because she was slotted to go abroad to Spain for that year, her big fucking dream finally come true and she was worried shitless about him. Knocked Lola for a loop when I said I'd do it, but it almost killed her dead when I actually did it. Move in with him. In fucking Demarest. Home of all the weirdos and losers and freaks and fem-bots. Me, a guy who could bench 340 pounds, who used to call Demarest Homo Hall like it was nothing. Who never met a little white artist freak he didn't want to smack around. Put in my application for the writing section and by the beginning of September, there we were, me and Oscar. Together." (p169-170)

So, culture shock, most definitely, but I rooted for Oscar right to the bitter end.

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