Feb 22, 2010

#15: Fiesta, 1980 by Junot Diaz


Available: Drown

Junot Diaz is probably best known for his first novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, but Drown, released in 1996, is well worth a look. In tales that explore the barrios of the Dominican Republic and the rougher parts of New Jersey, Diaz creates a paradoxical world where ugliness and beauty lie awkwardly together, where characters are the walking semi conscious, half drunk from the kick of drugs, alcohol, and unreliable relationships.

The Story
Fiesta, 1980 starts with a family drive to an aunt's house. The children Yunior and Rafa sit in the back while the parents drive. Yunior is petrified; he is often sick in cars and his father has promised to beat him should he be sick again. 

The father is cheating on his wife with a Puerto Rican woman, and often takes the boys with him in the van. At the party Yunior watches his mother in the crowd, unable to process his parent's seeming compatibility when combined with his father's philandering ways. By story's end, the stray parts (infidelity, Yunior's sickness, brother Rafa's predisposition to the female of the species) all combine to create a geographically alien but emotionally familiar tale of adult contradiction as seen through a child's eyes.

Why It Sticks
Junot Diaz makes a familiar tale original by a shifting in both tone and perspective. By placing the father's infidelity within a family setting, it seems just as repugnant and yet strangely ordinary. His father's cheating is not an escape, a masterful act of deceit or a catastrophe that reshapes the family's world. The narrator Yunior would rather it wasn't happening, but what is really destroying him is the duplicity that such infidelity requires, and the knowledge that his mother, who whether aware of the cheating or not, will have died a little by the end of this foolish game.

6 comments:

  1. Brief Wondrous Life is one of my all time faves and I quickly went to this collection for more work from Diaz. It's a brilliant collection. It was on the strength of this collection that he got the publishing deal that would lead to Oscar Wao, not to mention a six figure advance. Unheard of, but they weren't wrong in their estimation of how impressive a collection 'Drown' is and how talented a writer Diaz would prove to be, though it took twelve years for Oscar Wao to come out. 'Drown' is like a classic album. Every story is a hit--> but my pick would be 'How to Date a Browngirl, Blackgirl, Whitegirl, or Halfie.'

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  2. That's funny, I did it the other way around, as in Drown and then Oscar! Whatever way you approach him, Junot looks after his readers with quality prose. I'm glad I discovered him all these years later, as it would have been a long twelve years waiting for Oscar after being blown away by his debut. Thanks for the info Alec.

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  3. the woman he is cheating with is puerto rican

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  4. You're right, my mistake. I have changed the post in question.

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  5. awesome !!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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