Monday, July 26, 2010
Book Review: The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
Today, without any instigation on my part, I found myself dining at Malecon in The Heights, New York City. Malecon is a real-deal Dominican joint, where I ate some of the best chicken I've ever had.
As it turns out, I had just finished the last chapters of Junot Diaz's Pulitzer-prize winning debut novel, The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Splitting time between New Jersey and the Domincan Republic (wink), Diaz spins the tale of the achingly deep, brilliant and tubby Dominican "ghetto nerd" Oscar Wao.
Breaking nearly every traditional rule of punctuation and syntax, Diaz writes literary fiction on the level of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, yet has you turning the pages as fast as would Danielle Steele (Hold. I have no firsthand experience, whatever, of Steele. Sheer conjecture).
As Marquez did in One Hundred Years of Solitude, Diaz powerfully illustrates how one generation's habits, sins, characteristics, and actions trickle into the next, for better or for worse. Though Diaz did not likely write to edify, per se (or at all), I cannot help but take away a little warning. The stuff I do, the habits I choose to develop, the inherited negative character traits that I don't drown: my kids, my wife, my coworkers, my friends are afflicted with them.
A curse, known to Dominicans as fuku, is believed to have afflicted Oscar's family. What is this thing, if it exists at all, that has brought his family pain upon pain? Why are they always on a downward dive? He believes he's cracked its code, but the reader does not discover what he's learned.
Makes me think: What is the curse we're all under? Isn't it sin and our fallen nature? Isn't it the crummy habits we develop that plague and curse our lives and homes?
And what of the cure? How do we break it? Isn't it repentance? Isn't it, by the grace of God, to face down the ugly little temptations that knock on my mind's door?