Sunday, November 15, 2009

if i were discussing this book: the brief wondrous life of oscar wao

i'm hesitant to mark my return to the 17 point scale flash-book reviews (pretend that's an n-dash) by examining junot diaz's the brief wondrous life of oscar wao--the book jacket includes quotes from famous publications that pretty much nail my every thought on the book. it's "extraordinarily vibrant" (NYT), "hauntingly horrific" (SFC), "deliciously casual" (TBG), and "achingly personal" (LAT). and even beyond the ubiquity of glowing adverb + adjective constructions for oscar, if you pick out nearly any oscar blurb, i think you'll find me nodding along, "yes, yes. he's right. it is a brilliant multigenerational, globally enacted tragicomedy of sex and nerdom, an epic bildungsroman with voice and pizazz!" (T17PS).

but then i remember the point of this series: i'm not attempting reviews. i'm not even attempting to discuss books in any meaningful way. i merely want to give a sense of what i think of books and what i might say if i were forced to pen a thoughtful essay on said books. it's really quite liberating.

which brings me back to my rather common response to

a responsible thinker might question whether books like oscar perpetuate latin american stereotypes in the U.S. psyche (my friend dalia, an IU grad student, reminded me of this, which reminded me of this article about roberto bolano in the guardian). or perhaps he might study the sexual ethics and norms in oscar and then contrast those behaviors with the mind-splitting oppression of the dominican republic under trujillo and his "nazgul" minions; that'd be my second choice.

but my essay would focus on that one trait that seems to have made
oscar a universal sensation, the winner of the pulitzer prize for fiction, the national book critics circle award for fiction, time's #1 fiction book, et cetera: voice.

i'd attempt to locate the book in the context of other works throughout the centuries that have successfully combined a literary style (i.e., poetic language, thoughtful plot, full characters) with a not-so literary (and funny!) idiom. that is, diaz combines a sense of the literary--take this, for a random example, "It went up in a flash, like gasoline, like a stupid hope, and if I hadn’t thrown it [the burning wig] in the sink it would have taken my hand. … That was when she slapped at me, when I struck her hand and she snatched it back, like I was the fire"--with hilarious shout outs to contemporary vernacular. in
oscar we read about the One Ring, about Galactus and the Watchmen. we learn of the protagonist's desire to "combine world-class martial artistry with deadly firearms proficiency" and his sister, who unleashed one of the great Street Fighter chain attacks of all time (OK, as essay on violence could work, too).

and so i wonder what other books of fiction might fit in this canon of works that dare to combine the high and low (?) art to humorous and strangely profound effect.


i'm leaning toward a 13/17 rating, which makes oscar a 17 point scale recommended title, unless you prefer to avoid titles with copious amounts of violence, profanity, and sex. after all, if you condense this story to the simplicity of its most central device, it really is nothing more than the story of its protagonist's quest to lose his virginity.

you can purchase oscar here.

i'm also tweeting cool passages from the book at #oscarwao.


Anonymous said...

Andrew -- so glad to read your blog!!! yay :) multigenerational, eh? perhaps i would like this book...


andrew said...

you'll be happy to see, then, that there are several more posts scheduled between now and christmas. however, i think you may disagree with the narrative goal of these posts, but oh, well.

multigenerational in the sense that the book explores the stories of three generations of a family, usually when the protagonists of those stories are young or middle-aged, but not in the sense that there are young people and old people clowning around together at the same time. well, i suppose there is a little bit of that, but not enough to warrant the adjective multigenerational. but you still might like it...