Some New Trend

High-School Spanish Failed Me :: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Kevin Wilder

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“You really want to know what being an X-Man feels like? Just be a smart bookish boy of color in a contemporary U.S. ghetto. Mamma mia! Like having bat wings or a pair of tentacle growing out of your chest.”

oscar-waoThough The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is not brief (335 pgs.), it is wondrous, and has a lot to say about life. Of course there’s also a lot of Oscar de Leon (over 300 lbs worth). It felt like a whirlwind ride, which is funny, because when I reflect on the experience I can only remember learning about the hypersensitive kid’s troubles with girls, and becoming Dominican Republic’s answer to Tolkien.

Junot Diaz’s 2007 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel speaks about the mysterious fuku curse that’s followed Oscar’s family around for years, in both the D.R. and America. We meet a handful of characters along the way, and see how their portions of the story fit (or fail to fit) in the larger whole of the fuku curse and Oscar’s life. After the first 100 pages I was wishing we could stay on Oscar or his sister Lola, but further into the story came Yunior (our protagonist’s roughneck roommate, Lola’s sometimes-boyfriend, and probably my favorite narrator of all).

At about halfway Diaz’s storytelling became a challenge to follow, but his intense energy and amazing sentences kept me going. There was enough irreverent humor and wit to carry me through the liberties he took with grammar usage. He’ll switch from English to Spanish to slang (non-Spanish speakers beware), and as is the case with writers like Cormac McCarthy, he chooses to abandon dialogue punctuation completely. Diaz likes to use footnotes that tie in historical facts we probably wouldn’t know, and also mentions himself from time to time, just in case we’re forgetting it’s a work of fiction we’re reading.

If my review of this book is failing to jell, it might be because I’m still struggling to make sense out of it myself. I want to love the story more, not only because so many others seem to, but because there’s so much in the language to admire and appreciate. Maybe a re-read will transpire at some point, assuming I’ll become a more fluent Spanish-speaker.

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