Break-up book breaks hearts, details nine failed love stories

Kelsey McKinney

With all of its heartbreak, loneliness and womanizing, Junot Díaz’s new book “This is How You Lose Her” carries all the impact of a drawn-out, screaming break-up.

“This is How You Lose Her” is a gut-wrenching composition which — like any great work of literature — builds itself around the poor choices and relationships of a flawed protagonist. Yunior, the reckless “sucio” with a bumbling approach to love, is a recognizable figure to readers of Díaz’s work. He appears to be the same Yunior who narrated both of Díaz’s previous books.

Composed of nine short stories, “This Is How You Lose Her” tracks Yunior’s failed pursuit of love. These disjointed snapshots chronicle Yunior’s childhood immigration from the Dominican Republic, the death of his older brother and his betrayal of almost every woman in his life. Díaz’s mixed use of English and Spanish slang intertwines through all nine stories though they range across decades of Yunior’s life.   

Yunior is older in these stories than in Díaz’s previous books. He is middle-aged, plagued by childhood trauma and struggling through love and a lack of it. As the title suggests, Yunior’s love life is saturated with infidelity and its consequences.  Díaz is unabashed in his descriptions of Yunior’s cheating, and his dissection of the emotions that follow.

With the exception of “Otravida, Otravez,” a story from a woman’s perspective and the only one not featuring Yunior, the stories of “This Is How You Lose Her” are agonizing snapshots from Yunior’s life.

As Yunior says, “There are surprises, and there are surprises and then there is this”: a broken, inter-connected web of stories that wound the reader in a way that only a master of composition and prose can.

The last story of the book, “The Cheater’s Guide To Love,” sadly lacks the finesse and power of the previous eight. At 37 pages, the length of the story buries the beauty of Yunior’s struggle with a second person narration that is awkward and often distracting. Few authors can succeed with a second-person narrative and, while Díaz does it better than most, the story is the weakest.

“This Is How You Lose Her,” is a return to first love: the short-story collection. His debut collection “Drown” received mixed reviews when it was released in 1997, but was reappraised as an important piece of contemporary American literature after the publication of “The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” in 2008. Díaz’s highly praised novel was awarded both the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the National Book Critics Circle Award.

Díaz’s reign in American literature continues in these stories of cheating, loss and the grapple for cultural identity. “This Is How You Lose Her” is more realistic and more compact than the writing of “Oscar Wao,” but nearly every story exemplifies the narrative voice and concise style that readers of Díaz adore.

The heaviness that settles deep in the bottom of the stomach and stays there like a weight pulled down by all of the heartbreak, loneliness and desperation of each story is the brilliance of “This is How You Lose Her.” 

Junot Díaz will be speaking at 7 p.m. Tuesday, September 25th at BookPeople.