What: Talking Volumes
Who: Junot Díaz hosted by Kerri Miller
Where: The Fitzgerald Theater, 10 East Exchange Street, St. Paul
When: 7p.m., Sept. 18
Cost: $25 ($23 for MPR members)
Time works to Junot Díaz’s advantage even if he does not realize it. After winning the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2008 for his novel “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,” Díaz is still self-deprecating about his writing process. His latest collection of short stories, “This is How You Lose Her,” took more than a decade to write.
“I don’t know what’s wrong with me because it took a very long time,” Díaz said.
Díaz kicks off the 13th season of MPR’s “Talking Volumes” at the Fitzgerald Theater tonight, giving audiences a chance to peer into his meticulous process. The author and MIT English professor will discuss his newest work of fiction, “This is How You Lose Her.” Yunior, the narrator of all of the stories but one, details his accounts of cheating on women as the reader looks on with irritation and fascination.
Díaz’s appeal lies in the memorable characters he crafts. The titular overweight Dominican-American comic book savant in “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” cemented Díaz’s ability for making his fiction larger than life.
“There’s a part of me that has this tendency where I seem to want to make my characters family before I can say anything,” Díaz said.
“This is How You Lose Her” is a bold example of this method because the characters within it are based on Díaz’s family. He fictionalizes people from his own life, including family members, in the collection. Díaz even perceives his role as similar to a biographer’s.
“In some ways, biographers have to be entirely haunted by their subject before they can say anything,” Díaz said. “I definitely have an analogous feeling.”
Most of the stories chronicle Yunior’s never-ending romantic betrayals, mostly spanning his adult life. Díaz writes about society’s role in understanding Yunior’s masculinity.
“On the one hand, men are told that there’s nothing more masculine than to have no vulnerability, that there’s nothing more masculine than to avoid the feminine narrative such as love, such as domesticity,” Díaz said. “And yet, so many boys are [expletive] twisted by their lack of intimacy, by their inability to express vulnerability.”
Yunior, Díaz’s semi-autobiographical self, often cannot see his vulgar missteps permeating the romantic failures throughout “This is How You Lose Her.” Díaz reveals his protagonist’s failures from the beginning.
“I’m not a bad guy,” Yunior insists, only to continuously cheat on women he terms his “sucias,” meaning dirty or filthy.
The infidelity never becomes the surprise to each story, only the lingering guilt Díaz’s protagonist cannot escape. Yunior effuses fear masked as bravado and cloaks his pain in Díaz’s effortless fuse of science-fiction references and Spanglish streetwise slang. “This is How You Lose Her” forces the reader’s scorn and sympathy for Yunior in examination of his psychological self-destruction.
“[Yunior’s] problematic issues with intimacy, his sort of journey through infidelity, in many ways it kind of makes and unmakes him,” Díaz said.
Díaz is no stranger to construct stories based in reality. “Oscar Wao,” examined the de Leon family’s history juxtaposed with the historical context surrounding the turmoil of the Dominican Republic’s former dictator, Rafael Trujillo.
“I grew up in a nation, an island ravaged by apocalypse,” Díaz said. “I grew up in the ’80s, during the shadow of Dr. Manhattan, as they call it, under the shadow of the feudal war.”
Major “apocalypses” in Díaz’s personal and cultural history still inform his writing. If “Oscar Wao” presents a nationwide disaster of Trujillo’s rule for the Dominican Republic, “This is How You Lose Her” examines the interior demise within Yunior’s love life. Given this preoccupation with apocalypse, the new collection of short stories just represents a smaller canvas for Díaz’s fascination since “apocalypse,” which translates from Greek, literally means “to uncover or to unveil.”
“One can learn much about the world and about the human condition by sifting through our ruins,” Díaz said.
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