Junot Díaz on Writing Men, Stories as Art, and Star Wars
The biggest name at this year's Miami Book Fair International is the white-suited New Journalism legend Tom Wolfe. His mammoth new novel, Back to Blood, purports to paint Miami in all its sexy, tribal, orgiastic glory.
But the book with the most insight into the Magic City is actually a slender volume by Dominican-American phenom Junot Díaz.
Díaz will speak on Monday night at Miami Dade's Wolfson Campus. But first he spent half an hour talking to New Times about sex, love, art, and Han Solo.
This Is How You Lose Her is a soulful story in the Dominican Republic and New Jersey. So it might seems strange that it - and not Back to Blood -- would speak volumes to Miami readers.
The book -- which Díaz says can be considered either a collection of short stories or a "broken novel" -- is a short and bittersweet look at love, infidelity, and the male psyche. Its Dominican-American narrator, Yunior, is an alter-ego for Díaz who also appeared in "Drown" and the 2007 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.
Like Díaz, Yunior has "an IQ that would have broken you in two." He's also a major fuck-up. Yunior dates one woman after another, each one rendered in Díaz's achingly sexy prose. (Magda is "short with a big mouth and big hips and dark curly hair you could lose a hand in." Alma has a "long tender horse neck and a big Dominican ass that seems to exist in a fourth dimension.")
But Yunior cheats on them all. His infidelities make reading each chapter like watching a slow-motion train wreck. And yet, Díaz's description of Yunior is so honest that readers don't just understand the cheating bastard, they can't help but root for him to get his shit together.
Díaz's description of male weakness is devastating, but also refreshing. "I rarely encounter honest depictions of masculinity," he tells New Times. "I mean honestly, I read a lot bro and most of the time the male characters, I'm just kind of like 'OK, I don't know anybody like this but I'll go along with it.'" Instead, Díaz worked for 15 years on This Is How You Lose Her to make its characters as complex as real papi chulos.
"When a character in a movie does something that you'd never believe that they'd do, that's logical inconsistency," explains Díaz, a creative writing professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "But when a [complex] character surprises us... like Han Solo coming back at the end of the first Star Wars, it's very inconsistent with his character but suddenly you're like, 'Yeah, that makes fucking perfect sense.'"