My book club picked The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz for our February get together. This is the reason I love book club, because I would never have picked up this book on my own. Also, like every other female book club, we drink large amounts of wine. But we always read the book!
The novel is centered around Oscar, a tragic and hopeless lame teenager, during his high school and college years. Oscar is overweight, socially awkward, and just a bit too into science fiction and role playing games than the average teenager in the early 90s. I couldn’t help but emphathize with Oscar, even though I was not in his predicament in high school. Oscar’s life probably taps every reader’s emotional insecurities. Even the coolest kid in high school still probably felt like a loser at some point. Oscar has zero luck with the ladies, and seems to fall for completely unattainable women who immediately banish him to the friendzone.
While the story is centered on Oscar, the narrator explains Oscar’s story through events that happen to Oscar’s sister and mother. The narrator weaves all of these stories together, and shows why all of these tragic events will ultimately play a part in Oscar’s fate. Oscar can’t avoid his destiny, and the story is very bittersweet.
One of the more frustrating things for me was all of the conversational Spanish in the book. Of course, this is a book that takes place half in the Dominican Republic, and half in New Jersey in a Dominican neighborhood. I don’t know what else I was expecting. I took French in high school, so I found myself kind of lost at times. The Spanish did not make the book inaccessible, I just found myself having to google a couple of words if I didn’t feel I got the flavor the author intended.
However, after talking to my friend who also read the book, it seemed like I had the upper hand because I speak fluent “geek.” There are tons of references to Lord of the Rings events, Star Trek, even old Doctor Who. While I didn’t understand every reference (certainly not the Japanese anime) I realized that I had a huge leg up because I understand what it means”to bring the ring Mordor.” It blows my mind that other people don’t understand these references! But hey, I don’t speak Spanish, so we all have our limitations.
This book was not my type of novel at all, but I still found it incredibly well written. The narrator of the novel was incredibly charming, and the tone was so conversational that I felt like I knew each of the characters intimately. I am only giving this book three stars, but it is because it didn’t resonate with me and not because it is a bad or boring novel. I would still recommend this book. It was not a life changer for me, but a really good change of pace in my reading.