The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

From the beginning, I was concerned about the hype surrounding Oscar Wao... to the point where I think I scaled back my expectations enough before reading it and ultimately, I was quite pleased with this novel. Don't get me wrong, it has flaws... but I enjoyed the experience of reading it and that makes up for a lot.

In general, the book is about the life of super geek Oscar Wao, who is overweight and obsessed with fantasy & sci-fi novels. He's always hopelessly in love with a girl, but has never been able to actually have a girlfriend. The novel is also about his family, who has possibly been cursed... this fukú has potentially been plaguing his family for generations... though the narrator also notes that it's possible this fukú is on most of the world since slavery and colonization and all that.

Above all, I think this novel really comes down to the narration. Talk about a voice! I quite enjoyed the narrator, even as I recognize some moments of disconnect, but for some reason, they didn't bother me as much as they bothered some other people. I mean, we get some small jumps in perspective, but from the beginning, we have a novel narrated by someone that we don't meet until a good while into the book -- Yunior (who was also a main character in another of Díaz's books, apparently). However, despite being a character, Yunior is also an omnipotent narrator, speaking with knowledge beyond what is possible for a character within the story to know. His narrative is filled with all the geek-infused knowledge of Oscar (even though Yunior is actually a jock and a ladies man), so there's a small question mark that pops up there. But for whatever reason, I just accepted it for the sake of enjoying the novel. Assume that it's part of understanding Oscar and without that knowledge (I was impressed when I could catch a few of the references myself), then the novel would slip into something more mainstream... and you wouldn't be able to appreciate how geeky the author must be in order to have all this knowledge.

Beyond the story that revolves around Oscar, you also have the focus on his family, which includes his sister, his mother, and his grandfather. I know very little about the Dominican Republic, but what I did know before reading this book all seemed to be focused on Trujillo... and so I didn't feel so amazingly confused, as a lot of this focuses on life during and after Trujillo in the DR. It's amazing how much influence this dictator has had on the art that now comes from those in the DR or with Dominican ancestry.

I heartily recommend this novel, even though I'm not entirely sure that the Pultizer was warranted... because for me, Pultizer seems to signify something so amazing... and usually something about the author, who should probably be a little bit more known, yes?

If you haven't read it, I suggest putting it on your short list. It's a very quick read and I don't think you'll regret it. Just try not to expect the world of it and accept it for being simply a good book.

No comments: