I’m about halfway through Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao — almost exactly halfway through it, actually, which means that I’ve read the first three chapters, about a hundred and sixty pages or so of constant shift, motion, and fluidity. I normally wouldn’t talk about a book before I finished it. I don’t even like to talk about movies before they’re over (although man, my mother sure does). I think it’s hard to judge something without seeing the whole, hard to really articulate what you’re experiencing before you’ve completely experienced it. And that’s true. I can’t completely tell you what I think about this book yet. But man, those first three chapters. And man — MAN — that third chapter.
If you haven’t read the book, maybe you shouldn’t even read this, although I won’t give spoilers, so maybe you should. I’ll do my best. So he’s telling us this story, or so we think, about a fat nerdy kid in Paterson New Jersey, and the kid can’t get laid, can’t live up to the machismo of Dominican culture, and he’s speaking Elvish, and he looks destined for either disaster or some kind of redefined greatness, becoming a novelist or a sci-fi writer or something, and we’re right along for the ride. And then we’re on the story of his sister, who runs away from home to be with a boy and escape her mother and we’re looking back at it all so we know roughly where she’s going to end up and how it fits into her brother’s life, and we’re with it, and we’re along for the ride.
We explode backwards into this amazing, heart-rending story of their mother, their impossible beautiful mother, the kind of Dominican woman — Dominican girl, really — you can conjure up in your head the second he starts talking about her explosion into womanhood, and it’s a story of Trujillo, of violence and desperation and violent desperate love. And it’s stunning, and he’s still telling us the story of the fat nerdy kid, and it’s not related exactly, but it informs everything, and really, that’s how life works.
I finished the chapter, and I put the book down, and I said “wow.”
I’ll write more when I finish it. But that could take a while. I’m savoring this one.