Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Totally biased double feature

Books: This is How You Lose Her and NW

Authors: Junot Diaz and Zadie Smith

Published: 2012 (Riverhead and Penguin)

Pages: 213 and 401 (614 total)

Two of my favorite authors came out with books IN THE SAME MONTH (this one), and I really don’t feel like I can be objective about either one. Like, at all. But more than anything, this blog is to keep track of what I read and how it goes, so I’ll tell you why I thoroughly enjoyed both (big surprise) and you take it with a big grain of fangirl “squeeeee!” Deal?

Zadie Smith’s NW takes her usual themes of racial and class tensions and expectations slowly souring and drills deeper into a narrower space with them. Her history of two school friends and their life journeys that bring both of them back to their old Northwest neighborhood to uneasy relationships with each other and their spouses is very simple stuff at its core: people try to make themselves better and most often succeed just enough to be disappointed in themselves for the rest of their lives. The ordinary story works better than it should because of Smith’s stylized, stream-of-consciousness-ish narrative.

I can already see you rolling your eyes, but wait—she writes it just disjointed enough that it feels like following true thought processes, which brings intimacy to characters that aren’t nearly as exciting as her usual rag-tag bands of weirdos trying to fit in, and piecing together the chronology puts you right in the center of all of it. It ends inevitably, which isn’t exciting for this kind of story, but you do leave with a sense of peace. At least I did.

Junot Diaz brings back Yunior (hey, niƱo!), the narrator of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, to a series of short stories that lament and expand upon his Dominican heritage and love life. Both of those things are so tightly woven together it’s inevitable that they bring disaster upon each other. The most straightforward example of that is when he takes his girlfriend to the Dominican Republic for a fixing vacation when she doesn’t want to go or fix them. His manual on how to get over the love in your life once she finds out about you cheating is at once great, because of the hurting truths and shear amount of Spanish cursing, and depressing, because you feel every ounce of hurt he does when his physical coping mechanisms (running, yoga, walking) physically break his body just when he learns how to rely on those distractions to get him through the molasses-heavy time of Life Afterward.

Diaz wins out because Yunior is lively with everyman insights and optimism that makes reading him a great one-way conversation, but Smith still impressed me with her interior portraiture. Go read both!

These are two library books, so I will have to return them, but now’s my chance to remind you that libraries have awesomeness for free.    

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