Maybe it is just me, but it bothers me that there isn’t a comma after “Brief” in the title. Stupid punctuation.
Anyways, I read “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” mostly on planes while traveling about two weeks ago. In that in the short amount of time between finishing the book and writing this, the book becoming fuzzy in my mind. I think that is a bad sign. Are there still crystal clear images? Yes. But I read the first half of the book on my way to Arkansas and the second half on the way back. And by the time I started the return part of my journey, I had no idea what was happening in the story.
The book was written by Junot Diaz, who is generally known for his short stories. This novel feels more to me like a collection of short stories than a novel. This novel is also a Pulitzer prize winner. Amusingly, I also just saw an article last week calling him one of the most overrated authors of our time. I don’t know about that, but I do know that I didn’t love this book.
This is a story about fukú — “generally a curse or a doom of some kind; specifically the Curse and the Doom of the New World.” It is a multigenerational story that shows us the slow decline of a Dominican family. It seems that there is some kind of curse or fukú on the family. As you read along, you begin to believe the superstitions and think that this family is cursed.
It is also a story about the Dominican Republic. It tells the history of brutality and oppression from the reign of Trujillo, who ruled the Republic from 1930-1961, keeping the nation sequestered, bullied, and completely under his thumb. It is about a country’s beauty and ugliness and how there can be both extremes at the same time.
It is also, and not mostly, about an idealistic, incredibly nerdy boy named Oscar. Oscar grows up in New Jersey, a Dominican boy with no lady skills, which is apparently the worst thing ever. He is overweight, obsessed with science fiction, obsessed with love, and obsessed with worry that he’ll never lose his virginity.
The novel tells stories of Oscar, his sister, his mother, and grandmother and how they all seem to be affected by this fukú. I was originally confused by all the back stories and couldn’t seem to figure out who the main character was. I see now the necessity of telling all the back stories and other perspectives. It showed how everyone was affected by the curse, while at the same time offering up the alternative possibility that there is no such thing as fukú, that all their tragedies are just life.
I didn’t love the novel. I had a hard time getting into it. It didn’t help that there was ample Spanish thrown in the text, and I don’t speak a lick. But, it had moments that were nice, and I really enjoyed the ending. More than because of the content, I loved the ending structurally, although the content was nice. I read what I thought was the ending and flipped the page to find another addendum to the story. There were a number of little endings, which I found very satisfying. I don’t like when a book ends abruptly. I need a little denouement.
All in all, I thought the book was ok. I wouldn’t recommend it to people, but it had some moments. I am a bit suprised that it is a Pulitzer winner, but there is no accounting for taste.