This is one of those books that had to be read. Although this collection of short stories was published in 2012, the diversity debate on Twitter, which I follow quite closely, has meant that this book has been recommended by several people who know what they’re on about. Then when I walked into my local library last week it was sitting there – centre stage on the Recommended book case. I checked it out.
Until recently I haven’t been a huge reader of short stories. Some people like them as you can dip in and out of a book, but I’ve always been a committer to a long story and have been loyal to the novel. As I’ve tried to improve my own writing I’ve discovered the short story anew. It’s a real skill to be able to tell a story in a small number of words and have the reader come away satisfied. This collection takes the theme of love and the pain that goes along with it. For those who like to spend time with a character, this particular collection may be especially of interest: Yunior is the centre of these stories, a young Dominican living in New Jersey. Several stories link tightly to one another, setting up a character in one, then visiting them again later on in the book.
Diaz is a Pulitzer prize winner, so no matter whether this is usually your type of writing or not, it’s a safe pair of hands even when the words themselves are unfamiliar (there is much use of slang and Spanish but only brief moments and you can get the gist). It’s a very male voice – Yunior is a hugely chauvinistic character and, in the earlier stories especially, seems to have little respect for women. The first story, The Sun, the Moon, the Stars begins with Yunior’s girlfriend finds out that he’s been cheating on her. It’s a bit of a recurrence throughout the book, the infidelities of Yunior and other men. The good news is that cheats never prosper and so, as much as reading the misogynistic thoughts of Yunior et al can be infuriating, you just have to hold on and the retribution will come sooner or later.
There are many heart-breaking moments as well. The stories which feature Yunior’s family life are incredibly moving – Nilda is the introduction to brother Rafa, and from that moment you can watch the influence he has on Yunior and how these experiences turned Yunior into the man we have already seen. The stories aren’t told chronologically, they flit back and forwards, but it doesn’t matter. It adds in some ways as superficial judgements that I made based on the earlier stories then change later on as I learn about the boys’ childhood, their arrival in the US from Santo Domingo and about their family life.
There are many books written on the subject of love but, if you want to try something touching and funny, different, colourful and thought-provoking, you should read this.