Packaging. It’s important. Chevrolet realized that when it couldn’t sell Novas in Mexico because folks didn’t like a car that translated as “No Go.” It work’s that same way with guys who are ready to worship a beautiful woman, but don’t have the looks. This can be overcome via muscles (see, Carrot Top), cash (see, assorted old billionaires), drugs (see, the bouncer at your local strip club), confidence (see, Marc Anthony) or a decent rap (see, Salmon Rushdie.) In many cases, it’s not overcome…Cyrano de Bergerac, the Jonas Brothers (we can’t get a date!), John Travolta at a massage parlor and the protagonist of Junot Diaz’s book, Oscar De Leon.
The main story details the life of Oscar, a Dominican geek with no game amongst females, as told by his counterweight, the narrator Junior. It stylishly describes his sudden mega-crushes, which all end in crushing rejection. Compounding those disappointments, the realm outside his love life also serves up heaps of rejection, pushing Oscar into the sanctuary of his Sci-Fi writing.
When we know who Oscar is, we are given the stories of his sister Lola, mother Belicia and his grandfather Abelard. All good reads. Oscar at times seems simply a supporting character until the book validates its title in final stretch. The mythology and superstitions of old Caribbean peoples are not ignored as the book presses on and the golden mongoose combats the Cabral family curse.
You get a few stories in this novel, a little interesting Dominican history, some geek speak and wondrous writing. Diaz’s use of slang, New Rican Spanish, Tolkienisms and footnotes are dazzling, but don’t forget this guy’s isn’t just bullsh1tting at a barbarcue, he wrote it. He packaged some well know sentiment beautifully. For example…”Sucks to be left out of adolescence”…”But you can’t regret the life you didn’t lead”…”Let’s-Be-Friends Vortexes”…”We all know how tolerant the tolerant are”…”You can never run away. Not ever. The only way out is in.” Couple that with the passages about feeling the knot on Belicia’s breast and daaaaaamn, you have someone in touch with being a human being.
Obviously, this book has been praised in many quarters, and we find that the praise is well deserved.