This Is How You Lose Her

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This Is How You Lose Her
Junot Diaz
Riverhead, September 2012
224 pages

Full disclosure: I heart Junot Diaz. A lot. I’m not alone, of course. His previous efforts, Drown and the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, have attracted the kind of visceral praise usually reserved for rock stars: “powerful,” “raw,” “seductive,” “kick-ass.” I say all this in part to cushion the blow: This Is How You Lose Her, though occasionally brilliant, is no Oscar Wao.

With his latest work, Diaz returns to the literary form which sparked his career: the interconnected short-story collection. Indeed, fans of Drown will be pleased to find that This Is How You Lose Her shares many of the same settings and characters. The Dominican Republic is still being invaded by tourists. New Jersey is still on the verge of becoming a landfill. And Yunior, Diaz’s self-proclaimed alter-ego, is still struggling to adapt to life in the States.

The stakes, however, have changed. Less an exposé of the trials of assimilation than a primer on the possibility of decolonial love, This Is How You Lose Her aims, as Diaz has stated, “to come to terms with what love means” for males who’ve spent “most of their [lives] avoiding vulnerability.”

Over the course of nine stories told alternately in the first- and second-person, Yunior guides us (with one notable exception) through his personal memories of love and loss. Spanning the years, from his brazen disregard for his teenage girlfriend Alma to his supreme regret for cheating on his fiancée, Yunior constructs a clear narrative arc—one which begins with youthful celebration of misogynistic machismo and ends with a more mature respect for female humanity.

In fact, This Is How You Lose Her articulates Diaz’s growth as an artist no less than it showcases the blooming humanity of its protagonist. In this collection, written over the course of seventeen years, the oldest stories tend to be the weakest. “Invierno” (1998) and “Nilda” (1999) illustrate an author clearly still refining his art; they suffer from the kind of poor plotting and awkward phrasing—“I must have disbelief on my face”—which belie Diaz’s now trademark slick narration and sly inventiveness.

The collection’s final two (and newest) stories, by contrast, display Diaz at the zenith of his powers. In buzzing prose, “Miss Lora” and “The Cheater’s Guide to Love” (2012) capture the subjective feeling of heartbreak with startling tenderness. In the latter, Yunior likens the loss of a lover to a national tragedy: “like someone flew a plane into your soul. Like someone flew two planes into your soul.”

In these final stories, Diaz cautions that no amount of philandering or macho posturing can compensate for the loss of true love. After all, as Yunior realizes, “The half-life of love is forever.”