In recent years, in fact for some time now, my reading choices have been driven by one key criteria. The author must not be English. Of course, there may have been the odd exception but they have been rare indeed. I know enough about England and it’s class system, thank you. I’ve had enough period drama. I don’t need any more text speak. WTF.
I browse for international authors ie. non-english, but it goes without saying that where necessary they have to be translations. I am also a devotee of the short story. I love them. A well executed short story is like an exquisite painting. Complete in it’s suggestions, it’s implications, and as satisfying as licking chocolate from a cake spoon.
Driven by these maxims it was some years ago I discovered a new writer as I wandered the shelves of my local bookstore. Looking for non-English names I came across “Drown” by Junot Diaz. A collection of short stories set in the Dominican Republic from where Diaz hails. There were only two boxes to tick and “Drown” graced the score sheet in bold type. Short stories and not English. Bingo.
I was blown away. “Drown” is superb. Then there was silence for a while as I waited and waited for the next Junot Diaz book and then comes along the Pulitzer Prize winning “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” . Now I am hooked. I await Diaz stories like a fan awaits an album from his favourite band.
Hot off the presses is his new collection “This is how you leave her” – a collection of short stories around love, heartbreak, passion and loss.
The themes are universal. It is the characters and their reactions and realities that keep us coming back to these stories. Save for a couple of tales there is a single thread running through them all – the life and loves of Yunior, a young Dominican struggling through his teenage urges in New Jersey.There are butterflies and nervousness, lusts and innocence, explorations and infidelity.
Here, Diaz describes “Miss Lora”, or rather Yunior does……..
“Miss Lora was too skinny. Had no hips whatsoever. No breasts either, no ass, even her hair failed to make the grade .She had her eyes, sure,but what she was most famous for in the neighbourhood were her muscles .Not that she had huge ones like you – chick was just wiry like a motherfucker, every single fibre standing out in outlandish definition. Bitch made Iggy Pop look chub, and every summer caused a serious commotion at the pool. Always a bikini despite her curvelessness, the top stretching over those corded pectorals and the bottom cupping a rippling fan of haunch muscles. Always swimming underwater, the black waves of her hair flowing behind her like a school of eel. Always tanning herself(which none of the other women did)into the deep lacquered walnut of an old shoe. That woman needs to keep her clothes on, the mothers complained. She’s like a plastic bag full of worms. But who could take their eyes off her?
Hair flowing like a school of eel.
Junot Diaz’s writing is crisp and entertaining. There is liveliness and there is sadness. A truly excellent collection that will leave characters and their, sometimes, hopeless lives hanging in your mind for weeks after you read about them, just wondering, just wondering, how much of all of this is from truth.
Read it. It’s a goodie………. (and then make sure read the others)
(Junot Diaz is currently Professor of Creative Writing at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and lives in Boston……….and I’ve have him round for dinner.)