The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz
I now recognize the splattered gruesome-ness of the cover.
I understand why Díaz deserved the Pulitzer. Who else can go so seamlessly and effortlessly from Toto to Dungeons & Dragons to Scooby-Doo to Elvish … and spout perfect political theory, rant about colonialism, and enlighten you about “linguistic and computational complexity”?
I rejoice once more for Jonathan Davis who narrates Oscar Wao in the audible version, who rightfully won Audible.com’s 4th Annual Tournament of Champions of Audiobooks earlier this year with his recitation of Jack Weatherford’s Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World. Davis works the same fluid magic with Oscar and company.
But back to Wao (WOW!). In spite of Oscar’s name on the cover, the contents are shared by his extended family, including the many unrequited loves of his life. Narrated by Yunior (who I’m assuming is the same Yunior from Díaz’s short story collection, Drown), the story begins and ends in the Dominican Republic with Oscar’s first and last amors.
Dovetailed with Oscar’s endless search for love – from his 7-year-old Dominican Casanova self, to his rotund New Jersey teenaged years obsessed with role-playing games, to his depressed overweight adult incarnation scribbling hundreds of pages of fantasy novels (not to mention his expansive erudite vocabulary) – is an intricate family saga that spans two countries, three generations, multiple decades, and the heinous reign of “Rafael Leónidas Trujillo Molina, the Dictatingest Dictator who ever Dictated.”
From the barest distance, Yunior – as Oscar’s friend and short-term roommate who should have been Oscar’s brother-in-law if only he could keep his manhood from wandering – omnisciently fills in Oscar’s family tree. Oscar’s protective older sister Lola is a feisty, independent woman forced to grow up too soon by a mother incapable of showing the love her daughter craves. Mother Beli with secrets of her own, is dying from cancer, but determined to protect her children any way she can. And Oscar and Lola’s waiting grandmother La Inca back in DR is the holder of an ancestral nightmare her grandchildren will never know, but from which we readers cannot turn away.
The resulting collage of legends, memories, curses, and history is as gorgeous as it is horrific. Brief, yes. Wondrous, yes. And shattering, funny, wrenching, inspiring, tortuous … and finally, hopeful. “The beauty! The beauty,” the final page hauntingly echoes …