Friday, March 27, 2009

Brief Thoughts on the Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

In 2008, the Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction was not your typical "high literature." The winner was The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz.

I have never quite experienced anything quite like Diaz's story. It is no doubt modern fiction. The story is broken up in multiple sections telling the story of a variety of the characters.

The primary character is Oscar de Leon, a grossly-overweight dark-skinned Dominican living in New York who is interested in "genre fiction," and who's greatest desire is to feel validated, particularly by sex.

Hardly a family friendly book, Diaz's book is filled with the most abrasive and crash language of both the Dominican world and streets of New York.

What makes this book one of the most unique books, is because it masterfully crafts a story of rich characters that intertwines the modern history of the Dominican Republic, but at the same time because of the first-person perspective of the story's narrator and Oscar's obsessions the story consistently alludes to comic books, graphic novels, and science fiction.

In fact, I would say that this story would be hard to understand if you didn't have a little command of Spanish, as frequent phrases and dialogue contain simple spanish expressions, and then secondly, I think this story would be hard to understand if you didn't know the Lord of the Rings.

The whole confines of which the Dominican dictatorship of Trujillo is discussed is built around Tolkein's Lord of the Rings. For example Trujillo's luetenents are often referred to as ringwraiths. In fact, the book has frequent references to Mordor, the Eye, Golum, Sauron, Galadriel, and of course the ring.

It is these types of references, and frequent frenferences to the Marvel Universe that make the story a different type of novel (it is probably worth noting thought that this is the second book in this decade to deal with significant comic book themes with The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay plays on these thems, but in a different time and tone).

I am always interested in how literature cross references society. Currently I'm reading Stephen King's Duma Key and in it there are tons of modern references, especially with the old lady Elizabeth who watches Oprah everyday, at one point King references Kristie Alley appearing on the show to talk about her weight.

King's book falls into the "popular fiction" category while Junot Diaz's book falls into the "literature" category.

I can certainly appreciate this book, but would hardly recommend it to many. It's no coincidence that the main character and the narrator are fans of the Watchmen comic, the end of the novel potentially "spoils" Watchmen (as I've seen in some reviews) as it raps up the entire story of Watchmen in a brief paragraph in the end of this Pulitzer Prize winning novel.

Unless you're obsessed with reading everything, love "genre fiction" and "Dominican-American" culture, this book might not, and probably is not for you, but I am very impressed with the work that Diaz has put together, and impressed with the Pulitzer Prize teams that pick the winners, who never let us know quite what book will be given the ultimate honor.

1 comment:

Loren Eaton said...

Anything friendly towards genre fiction and Lord of the Rings must be pretty darn good ...