ISBN 978-0-571-29421-3 published 2012 by faber and faber 214pages
You work harder than you’ve ever worked at everything- the teaching, your physical therapy, your regular therapy, your reading, your walking. You keep waiting for the heaviness to leave you. You keep waiting for the moment you never think about the ex again. It doesn’t come.
I bought This Is How You Lose Her on my lunchbreak, read the first few pages walking back to the office, by the time I got to my desk my heart was busted wide open. This book has the potential to ruin lives.
The first I heard of Diaz was his short story How To Date A Brown Girl (Black Girl, White Girl or Halfie) a second person instructional manual about how to pick up depending on the ethnicity and class of your date. The story was published in the New Yorker in 1995 and was one of ten in Diaz’ first short story collection Drown, published in 1996. Two of his stories were later picked up by This American Life. In 2007 Diaz published a novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.
This Is How You Lose Her is Diaz’ third book. He is from the Dominican Republic but grew up in New Jersey. The collection is steeped in street slang and Spanish, ‘Both your father and your brother are sucios. Shit, your father used to take you on his pussy runs, leave you in the car while he ran up into cribs to bone his girlfriends.’ The compostion is deliberate, stylised and highly condensed. The back cover says ‘Nobody writes about relationships between men and women like Junot Diaz’ but I don’t think that is true. I think this collection is like something Raymond Carver or Amy Hempel would have written. The stories are honest, the language isn’t fancy and the attention to detail is there- along with minimalist unpunctuated dialogue that reads like Cormac McCarthy’s:
After you pull yourself back together you tell Elvis: I think I need a break from the bitches.
What are you going to do?
Focus on me for a while.
That’s a good idea, says his wife. Besides it only happens when you’re not looking for it.
This Is How You Lose Her contains nine stories which operate independently but share characters- most are told by the protagonist Yunior. The first story The Sun, the Moon, the Stars opens with ‘I’m not a bad guy. I know how that sounds- defensive, unscrupulous- but it’s true. I’m like everybody else: weak, full of mistakes, but basically good.’ The rawest parts are about Yunior’s relationship with his brother, who has cancer and Diaz’ astringent observations of what it is like to be poor and working your arse off for a better life that may never arrive. The social justice underpinning this work is what elevates it to an incredible level.