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Wednesday, September 19th, 2007
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The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

by Junot Diaz

We're All Fukú'd

A review by Allison Glock

Junot Díaz isn't messing around.

Yunior -- the narrator of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao -- he is messing around. With women, with drugs, with his future, something both uncertain and fated.

Through Yunior we learn of Oscar Wao's exquisitely damned immigrant family. We also learn of the so-called fukú curse they can't escape. It's a curse of your people, of love, of New Jersey. The curse that brought down longtime Dominican dictator Trujillo and JFK alike. And the curse that brings down Oscar -- a nerdy fatboy, disparaged and done for by age seven, the one Dominican teenager in all New Jersey who can't lose his virginity.

Like his shattering 1996 debut collection, Drown, Díaz's first novel is dense and thick, teeming with observations stacked tight like staples. From Santo Domingo to Paterson, New Jersey, from cane fields to college, Díaz mashes up history and modernity as we follow the doomed fate of Oscar's family. Magical realism and animal guides find a home alongside sex, salsa, and sadism. Díaz examines the ruinous damage wrought by Trujillo with the same fervor as he dissects Oscar's obsession with Tolkien and Akira. There are no real borders, just people and their stories and the inescapability of both.

For Díaz, this is not simply a fashion but a philosophy. His writing is unruly, manic, seductive. He urges the reader to grab it all, exclude nothing, face facts, get laid, get drunk, smile on your brother, marry, and live your life in all its inescapable lunacy. Most important, don't fool yourself into believing that it could have unfolded any differently. Because like Oscar, no one escapes the past. Every character -- every person -- is damned from the start.

And that, above all else -- more than the intricate language, the ambitious story arc, the weaving of timelines and plot -- is Díaz's peak accomplishment. Unfailing empathy. He judges no one. Not the whores or the fascists or the abusers. In Díaz's landscape, we are all the same, victims of a history and a present that don't just bleed together but stew. Often in hilarity. Mostly in heartbreak.

In the end, we are all fukú'd.

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