Book Review: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I brought this book with me to Viable Paradise and found myself reading it at the weirdest of times (2am, between lecture breaks). It was riveting enough that I couldn’t put it down, but I can’t say I honestly liked the book.

Mainly, I struggled with the misogynist language. I can handle swear words fine, but never could stomach characters calling women c— and p—-. Hate that with a passion. I couldn’t sympathize at all with the narrator until he revealed himself halfway through the story and gave some insights into his own past (another thing I struggled with: I thought for the longest time the narrator was Oscar’s sister. The two voices are too similar for me–I had to read carefully to figure out who was talking).

Also, I had a hard time trusting all the scifi references. Being a geek myself, I got most of them, but for the first part of the book, it felt as if the author was trying really hard to show how much a geek Oscar was by throwing in all these LotR and Akira references, which felt too…general. Thanks to the movies, everyone knows LotR, and not as many people know Akira, it is the first anime movie that broke the market here in the US. It felt to me that the scifi references was more name-dropping than actually pertaining to the story…until I reached the passage where the narrator describes a cafe kitchen worker as a grotesquerie straight out of Gormenghast. When I read that, I was like, ahhhh, so he does know his fantasy books. And from that point on, I started trusting the book.

Which is good because the story itself is heartbreaking. If you ever want to learn how to write passive characters, this is a good one to read, because Oscar is passive…and what’s more, he chooses to be passive. the scene where the roommate (and thus the narrator) tries to get Oscar to work out and he gives up, actually fights to give up, is powerful. His lonely life is balanced by the stories of the people around him, which are heartbreaking in their own right. But Oscar’s was what pulled me in; I remember those days of loneliness and reading thick fantasy novels and crushing hard on guys who never returned the favor. So most of what Oscar did in the book didn’t surprise me, at least not until the end, but even then, now that I think about it, his ending was inevitable.

So the story itself is why I’m giving it three stars. Too bad Oscar didn’t hang. A couple more years and there would have been the Internet. But knowing him, he probably would’ve become those bleak, all night WoW players who don’t interact with people except through avatars. So maybe it is a triumph he went out the way he did? ::shrug::

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