Tuesday Books for Writers! The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao


The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
by Junot Diaz

Read this if you are writing:
A multi-generational story
With footnotes
About Dominican Culture
About a ‘Ghetto Nerd’
With multiple POVs
A story that covers a long period of time
A non-linear narrative
Dialogue with slang/dialect/non-English
Fiction that infuses history

I’m not going to lie. I had a lot of difficulty getting through this book. I have an INTENSE dislike of footnotes. I don’t know Spanish. I am bored by historical accounts. I don’t get any references to speculative fiction. And I am often annoyed by non-linear storylines. This lovely, Pulitzer Prize winning little diddy, included ALL of these elements. There were some ‘can’t put it down’ moments. But also the feeling: ‘Can’t pick up. Not today. No mami.’

When I turned that last page, I was never so happy to have finished a book. For two reasons.
1. Dios Mio! That was really hard to get through.
2. Wow. If you can get through it there’s a really wonderful story in there.

There are a lot of reasons that you should read this as a writer. Most of them are listed above. There is a lot crammed into 325 pages. It’s an epic novel for the ADD. It plays with everything. Structure, language, POV, style, and all kinds of literary things I don’t even know about. I’ll leave that kind of analysis to the smart people. If anything, I was most impressed with the sheer amount of ground that it covered.

If you can get past a lot of the distractions (yes, I consider footnotes a distraction), there’s a really, truly brilliant story in there. It’s incredibly powerful. In my opinion, it’s a story that could stand on it’s own. Start to finish, with the wonderfully, fresh voice of a most endearing narrator about four strong characters: Oscar de Leon (the title character) his sister, Lola, his mother, Beli, and his grandfather, Abelard. When I finished the book, I left confused about Dominican history, but very aware of this personal struggle that spanned generations. I understood the enchantment of Santa Domingo. I felt a lot of complex emotions about what these four characters had endured. A marvelous story that still stands out amidst the playful technique and structure. There’s a lot to be learned from this book. And when you’re finished, not only will you get to see what a 3 page footnote looks like, but, in theory, you’ll know what it takes to win a Pulitzer! 🙂

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