This Is How You Lose Her is a collection of stories that revolves around the both charming and incorrigible Yunior. Readers of Diaz’s earlier works will find him familiar; the Pulitzer Prize winner The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao features him as one of the narrators. In this collection, instead of telling us the (mis)adventures of Oscar, he relates to us various stories about his (mis)adventures with random women. It’s not so bad, isn’t it? But the problem is, these (mis)adventures take place while he is in a relationship.
Most of the stories are confidences of Yunior’s illicit affairs. It’s something that I feel strongly against because I am a faithful person in terms of romantic relationships and I feel that cheating is something that cannot be excused. Why cheat when you can get out of the relationship that you’re in? I know this would involve a heavy study of the too complex human behavior and I am not going to attempt to do that.
What I’m going to do instead is to describe the prose. Yunior can speak a number of languages. Yes, the text is nuanced with Spanish phrases that make it very sexy, racism aside, but more important than that is the variety of audiences that he can reach. Yunior writes in the language of his native Dominican Republic, the ghetto, the academe, and of course, the language of the heart.
This is the perfect place for insight, for a person to become somebody better. The Vice-President probably saw his future self hanging in this darkness, bulldozing the poor out of their shanties, and Barbaro, too–buying a concrete house for his mother, showing her how to work the air-conditioner–but, me, all I can manage is a memory of the first time me and Magda talked. Back at Rutgers. We were waiting for an E bus together on George Street and she was wearing purple. All sorts of purple.
And that’s when I know it’s over. As soon as you start thinking about the beginning, it’s the end.
I cry, and when they pull me up the Vice-President says, indignantly, God, you don’t have to be a pussy about it.
[You sound strange, she said.
I remember Cassandra pressing the hot cleft of her pussy against my leg and me saying, I just miss you.]
That is taken from The Sun, the Moon, the Stars, a story about Yunior’s last ditch attempt to save his relationship with Magda. This pretty much sets the mood of the collection. Imagine a man hanged upside-down to get a view of a hole in the ground with loose change falling out of his pockets. Imagine him not wondering about what he could possibly see in that hole but thinking instead of a crumbling relationship. Imagine his pain of losing Magda. Imagine his regret.
[Instead of lowering your head and copping to it like a man, you pick up the journal as one might hold a baby’s beshatted diaper, as one might pinch a recently benutted condom. You glance at the offending passages. Then you look at her and smile a smile your dissembling face will remember until the day you die. Baby, you say, baby, this is part of my novel.
This is how you lose her.]
Another story, Alma, works on the same lines. This one is a little tighter though, and it all takes place in a flash, a mere four pages. Miss Lora, however, is longer and talks of Yunior’s early lessons in the art of sex with no less than an older teacher at his high school.
There are also stories that are not solely about Yunior. Rafa, his older brother, steals the limelight in a number of stories. The reader could feel the rivalry between the two, but one could sense that their relationship is not just about getting back at each other. The two may never reconcile as loving brothers should, but it doesn’t change that Yunior, the younger brother who worships his older brother with such hatred and helplessness, is haunted by his memory.
[She started to cry, and when Rafa put his hand on her waist, she slapped it away. We went back to our room.
I think she’s losing it, I said.
She’s just lonely, Rafa said.]
The most beautiful story here is Invierno. It’s not about infidelity per se. We are taken back to Yunior’s past as a kid who has been recently taken to America by his womanizing Papi, along with Rafa and their Mami. Leaving the equatorial climate of DR makes them alienated with all the snow surrounding them, and they are advised by their Papi to lock themselves up to keep warm. No playing outdoors, no chatting with neighbors. Yunior, Rafa, and Mami look at the strange world outside until one day, they come out and familiarize themselves with the falling snow while they pick up a new perception of life.
[That’s about it. In the months that follow you bend to the work, because it feels like hope, like grace–and because you know in your lying cheater’s heart that sometimes a start is all we ever get.]
You might care to ask how Yunior gets caught every time he does what he does. In most cases, he leaves written evidence for the girls to see. Mind you, these are not merely love letters but journals. Yunior is as much a writer and professor as his creator is, and one can’t help but wonder if this collection has autobiographical hints.
Now that we have answered the how, let’s go to the why. Why does Yunior do it? Even with The Cheater’s Guide to Love, we can’t tell exactly. Still, we could count on the stories that he tells us both unreliably and truthfully, and glean from it the struggles of a heart divided by the too complex human behavior.
Dates Read: January 26 to 28, 2013
No. of Pages: 213
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars