The 150-word Review: There are moments in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao where Díaz’ street-wise, ghetto-nerd pyrotechnics fall away, where substance transcends style, and the authenticity of his characters shines: Lola’s story, Beli’s three loves, Abelard’s tragedy, Oscar’s final days in Santo Domingo. Long before Oscar Wao, Díaz cultivated this kernel of authenticity in the soil of his 1996 collection, Drown.
Shifting from a dusty campo in Santo Domingo to a crack house in New Jersey, Drown contains ten stories that read like snippets from a larger narrative. The victim of a brutal unprovoked attack in “Ysrael” returns in “No Face” to give us a glimpse into his daily life. A young man remembers “holding on” during his father’s abandonment in “Aguantando” then, in “Negocios,” he imagines his father’s lonely, frustrating struggle in America. In Drown, Díaz’ narrative subject is the immigrant, existing in two different worlds and belonging to neither.
You will enjoy this book if you are a fan of: childhood bullies, sibling disputes, the first days of blunted-out adult independence, crack head girlfriends, summers at the pool, remembering childhood parties and watching the adults dance, fighting for a tenuous grip on the bottom rung of the American dream, fathers and mothers, and adolescent sexual fumblings.
Clavinism (stuff that will not make you look cool in a bar): Actually Norm, “Yunior” is Junot Díaz’ family nickname.