Monday, July 13, 2009

The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao (2007)

Junot Díaz's The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao (2007) was not only a Pulitzer Prize winning novel, it also holds the prestigious honor of being the next DAFFODILS (that is the Dangerously Affable Friendly Friends Optional Drinking Invitational Literary Society) selection.

The book traces the story of Oscar de León, an overweight, science-fiction loving, Über-nerd, Dominican-American growing up in New Jersey, and his family -- particularly his older sister Lola, his mother Beli, and his grandfather Abelard. The family may be cursed, or it may just have the ordinary luck of Dominicans, our narrator, Yunior (a boyfriend to Lola and a sometimes-roommate to Oscar), isn't saying. Either way, bad things happen to them from generation to generation. And while Díaz starts us out in 1980s and 1990s New Jersey, we are quickly sent back to the Dominican Republic of the 1940s and 1950s where we and the family feel the wrath of dictator Rafael Trujillo.

I thought this was a really fun read, and I am a total sucker for multi-generational epics, so if you are too I would recommend checking this one out. My big criticism is that some of the "quirks" of the narrator and author (mostly the extensive footnotes and excessive sci-fi references) were applied inconsistently and sometimes got in the way of the story. Oddly enough all the characters are very engaging, complicated and well-drawn except for Oscar himself. I'm sure this was intentional, but I can't help wishing that the reader was able to slip under his armor a bit and get something more three-dimensional from the guy.

I have more to say, but I'm going to keep it under wraps until the book club meets.



jlowe said...

I finished it last night, but I will reserve all comments.
However, I wish to point out that we are the DEVILISHLY Affable Friendly Friends Optional Drinking Invitational Literary Society

Spacebeer said...

Damn, you are totally right about that. Perhaps we are both devilish and dangerous?

steigrrr said...

awww, man, can i be an honorary member of DAFFODILS? even though i can't join in the discussion? i read this last year and liked it a lot, and also heard junot diaz read from it and answer questions. i have lots of thoughts about it.

i also highly recommend drown which is the book of short stories that came out before this book.

Spacebeer said...

Amy you can totally be an honorary DAFFODIL!

steigrrr said...


i will say this one thing: junot diaz said the one thing this book fears most is dictatorship. but writing a novel is pretty much a solitary and dictatorial exercise, as is reading a novel (i kind of disagree with him, but whatever). anyway, that's something to think about, in terms of the narrator's voice and the depth and complexity or lack thereof in the characters, and the footnotes and all of that.