The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

A female was talking to him. (It was an unprecedented change in fortune, as though his threadbare Skein of Destiny had accidentally gotten tangled with that of a doper, more fortunate brother.)

When it comes to stories, Junot Diaz’ novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao demonstrates the concept that it’s not always about the destination – sometimes it’s the journey that counts. Before one even opens the book, they know that the story is about Oscar and that his life is brief and, well, wondrous.

When I began reading, I found the narrative enjoyable and funny as teenagers among the Dominican families of New Jersey went about their usual and sometimes unusual lives. It seemed, though, that it was simply a glorified YA novel (not that there is anything wrong with YA novels). I admit I thought to myself “This won the Pulitzer?”

But it didn’t take long to figure a few things out. The narrative of Oscar’s life as a nerdy, lonely teenager moves forward in a normal chronological plot line. The history of Oscar’s family – his mother and grandparents- moves backwards in a more sweeping saga of the totalitarian regime that rules the Dominican Republic during the middle of the Twentieth Century.

About a fourth of the way through the novel, I again thought to myself “Ah, I’m seeing how this works and I like it.”

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The story is narrated by Yunior, Oscar’s college roommate and Oscar’s sister Lola’s ex-boyfriend. It begins as an odd choice for a narrator as Yunior doesn’t enter the actual plot until Oscar’s college years. Between Oscar’s writing that is never published and Yunior’s relationship with Lola, it begins to make sense that he would know so much about Oscar’s family and childhood.  Yunior is a recurring character in Diaz’ writing and he becomes a perfect narrator in this novel. He is a contrast to Oscar in that he dates lots of girls and is relatively sociable. His interest in books and writing seems to be what he has in common with Oscar.

Diaz gives hints throughout the novel (not the least of which is the title) of the amazing conclusion to Oscar’s story. In his struggle to make a difference in a world that isn’t interested in him, Oscar ultimately makes a sacrifice that may not go down in history but impacts the lives of his family and friends to a degree that lives up to the word “wondrous” in the title and makes the novel absolutely worthy of the Pulitzer.

 

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