The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz
rating: 3 of 5 stars
This book was passed onto to me by a friend, very well reviewed. And indeed, there were many things to like about this book. The writing was very good. Certain scenes were surprisingly beautiful while at the same time being brutal-- --but at the same time the main character's obsession with fate was far more important that the tragi-fun forrays into geek/dork/nerddom. Now I know, some people are reading this now and saying "fuku!" and "zafa!" but I don't care if a book is about faith and fate, that doesn't give it the right to be so very predictable.
The title is the first problem. Unless you are a hopeless optimist you know that Oscar Wao will be dead by the end of the book, and by about 40 pages in you can probably make an educated guess as to how. Matters are made worse by the fact that the novel had fantastic PR. Something I too hope to have someday, but not in quite the same way. I fear that my sense of deja vu may have been because I read so many different pieces excerpted in different magazines (the New Yorker springs immediately to mind). Large portions of the book are exquisitely rendered, but still feel narratively redundant or unnecessary.
A perfect example of this is the ending, that starts by giving us five farewell scenes, and then, two separate codas before fading to black, and letting the movie-credits-like acknowledgment page roll. Part of me wants to believe that Diaz is using this ending as a play off of epic fantasies which often need to tie up several loose ends, or in particular the Return of the King movie, which in the last 15 minutes seemed to be entirely slow motion of people smiling and clapping people on the back. But it was a disappointing and monotonous end to the Return of the King, and I can't help but feel the same at the end of this novel. Playful homage is fine, but its limits are the same as the limits of whatever genre it chooses to emulate, and cliche satirized is, unfortunately, often still trite.
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