The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz
Oscar (protagonist) obsessed with sci-fi comic and fantasy books, has a quest for true love. He has to deal with identity issues; He is a misunderstood outsider amongst Dominican Republic low class immigrants and he is cursed (Fukú americanus as the book calls it). The plot is the quest (looking for true love) and with the mix of the curse, faceless man etc. it is a Magical realism genre.
Díaz’s style mixes elements of humour, tragedy, history and identity conflict. Here is an example of humour being used to depict a personal crisis:
“Oscar, Lola warned repeatedly, you’re going to die a virgin unless you start changing. Don’t you think I know that? Another five years of this and I’ll bet you somebody tries to name a church after me. “
A life of seemingly nobody makes us realize that he is somebody and the life represents a history of a nation. The last few verses of the book’s epigraph (2009) a poem by Derek Walcott’s supports this idea:
“I had a sound colonial education,
I have Dutch, nigger, and English in me,
And either I’m nobody, or I’m a nation.”
The books narrators are Lola (Oscar’s sister) who narrates as Wildwood in chapter two, and Yunior (Oscar’s best friend and room mate and Lola’s boyfriend) who takes on the personality of “The watcher” (Stan Lee’s fictional character- an alien who observes Earth) narrates for most parts then breaks out as himself. There is also “a notes from your Author” justifying the reality of Oscar and Ybón:
“Would it be better if I had Oscar meet Ybón at the World Famous”
Lola provides the female point of view and family history. We read about her mother and grandparent’s tragic end. Yunior gives us the male perspective and tells us about Oscar’s obsession with true love. There is a parallel narrative in the footnotes. Dominican Republic in the footnotes is another ingenious device used. In those compressed small print footnotes of history of “others” a country almost becomes a character:
“’party watcher’. The word came into common usage during the First American Occupation of the DR, which ran from 1916 to 1924.”
Narration style is in third person. The narrators for most part have a culturally and racially biased voice. Watcher is anti-Trujillo (a genocidal dictator) and judgemental. We have inadequate narrators who carry the story from their point of view.
The two male characters of the story Oscar and Yunior are the two opposite faces of the same coin. Oscar is direct and suffers for showing himself for who he is. Yunior hides behind masks, he is just as geeky about comic books and sci-fi but knows he cannot present himself like that but suffers in not having honest loving relationships. We know Oscar dies so having Yunior as a narrator gives a critic on Oscar’s life. Just as he was a guardian for Oscar, Yunior reaches a low point in life and a beyond the grave Oscar pushes him towards a healthier life.
To give the characters authenticity Díaz uses skaz and Spanish frequently.
“Ay, hija, no seas ridìcula.”
The language written from the characters perspective has a lot of swearing. The following incidentally reveals Yunior’s secret geekiness!
“Speak friend, and enter. In fucking Elvish! (Please don’t ask me how I knew this.”
There is use of free indirect style narration, which Díaz uses to add humour:
“Oscar’s moms had bought their house with double shifts at her two jobs.
Ybòn bought hers with double shifts too, but in a window in Amsterdam.)”
Díaz uses upper case and fonts to create voice. It is used when a character speaks loud or wants to emphasis a point:
“Do you know that woman’s a PUTA?”
I really enjoyed this book. It so beautifully mixes humour and tragedy, as well as parallel footnotes narrative that I want to borrow that. It is going to be tough to pastiche all the elements such as footnotes, sci-fi geek narrator etc. in a short story. I will try to create a biased narrator, a 35-year-old Iranian blogger (Asghar) and use skaz (he is educated in UK but has moved to New York) and create (Persian- English) skaz just as Díaz did with Spanglish. I’ll add some culturally eccentric attributes where appropriate.
Díaz, Junot. 2009. The brief wondrous life of Oscar Wao, London, Faber and Faber.