Monday, April 20, 2009

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz

Posted by lea at 12:02 PM
Having seen the intriguing cover and been informed that The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao had won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, my expections, as I opened the front cover, were high. Sadly, they were not met.

What I loved about the book:
  • The author writes mean narration. Very much as though he's talking straight to you. Only towards the end did it begin to unravel when it becomes obvious that the narrator is Oscar's sister's ex-boyfriend (sound a bit convoluted? I thought so too), who doesn't seem to be the same person who began the book. The novel is divided into three (?) distinct parts however, so it's likely he picked up the narration at some point, but the style of narration is so similar it's hard to tell when he took over.

Problems with this book:
  • Oscar is not a particularly lovable character. It's hard to build a book out of a central character who really has nothing going for him. You feel sorry for him that he has no luck pulling the girls and that he's overweight and picked on, but there's nothing overly endearing about Oscar.
  • Despite the title, the story is in fact about Oscar's family - his character is just one part of the whole. The story of his mother and sister make up just as much of the book, but all their stories are overshadowed by the lesson in the Trujillo chapter of Dominican history peppered throughout the novel both within the narration and in the thousand and one footnotes, some almost page-long.
  • Okay, we get that the narrator and characters speak Spanish, but here's a vital point: not all the readers do. The continual use of Spanish with no translation or clue as to what they mean began to get really annoying, and created a sense of being left out of the plot.
  • It simply doesn't live up to the wonderful title, which refers to one tiny portion of the book when someone compares Oscar to Oscar Wild, which another character pronounces 'Oscar Wao'.
  • The ending, which is meant to be very a moving eulogy of the imprint Oscar left on the narrator, didn't have the impact I imagine Diaz intended, as his life was not as wondrous or large as we are supposed to want to believe (the details of his life are not large, but I felt that readers were imposed on to interpret it on a grander scale).
Ultimately I was rather disappointed by The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, but most likely because I couldn't relate to him or any of the characters.


Valerie on May 3, 2009 at 2:23 AM said...

I haven't read this book yet. Your comments remind me of when I read "A Confederacy of Dunces"--a lot of people like this book--but I didn't, because I just couldn't like the main character although I felt I was supposed to.

That doesn't mean, though, that a book has to be considered good if it has likeable main character(s)!

I guess it depends on the mood of the reader, other variables, etc.

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