Excerpt from The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

A Novel

by Junot Diaz

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2007, 352 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2008, 352 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Lucia Silva

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How had the breakup affected Olga? What he really was asking was: How had the breakup affected Oscar?

It seemed to Oscar that from the moment Maritza dumped him - Shazam! - his life started going down the tubes. Over the next couple of years he grew fatter and fatter. Early adolescence hit him especially hard, scrambling his face into nothing you could call cute, splotching his skin with zits, making him self- conscious; and his interest - in Genres! - which nobody had said boo about before, suddenly became synonymous with being a loser with a capital L. Couldn’t make friends for the life of him, too dorky, too shy, and (if the kids from his neighborhood are to be believed) too weird (had a habit of using big words he had memorized only the day before). He no longer went anywhere near the girls because at best they ignored him, at worst they shrieked and called him gordo asqueroso! He forgot the perrito, forgot the pride he felt when the women in the family had called him hombre. Did not kiss another girl for a long long time. As though almost everything he had in the girl department had burned up that one fucking week.

Not that his “girlfriends” fared much better. It seemed that whatever bad no- love karma hit Oscar hit them too. By seventh grade Olga had grown huge and scary, a troll gene in her somewhere, started drinking 151 straight out the bottle and was finally taken out of school because she had a habit of screaming NATAS! in the middle of homeroom. Even her breasts, when they finally emerged, were floppy and terrifying. Once on the bus Olga had called Oscar a cake eater, and he’d almost said, Look who’s talking, puerca, but he was afraid that she would rear back and trample him; his cool-index, already low, couldn’t have survived that kind of a paliza, would have put him on par with the handicapped kids and with Joe Locorotundo, who was famous for masturbating in public.

And the lovely Maritza Chacón? The hypotenuse of our triangle, how had she fared? Well, before you could say Oh Mighty Isis, Maritza blew up into the flyest guapa in Paterson, one of the Queens of New Peru. Since they stayed neighbors, Oscar saw her plenty, a ghetto Mary Jane, hair as black and lush as a thunderhead, probably the only Peruvian girl on the planet with pelo curlier than his sister’s (he hadn’t heard of Afro-Peruvians yet, or of a town called Chincha), body fine enough to make old men forget their infirmities, and from the sixth grade on dating men two, three times her age. (Maritza might not have been good at much - not sports, not school, not work - but she was good at men.) Did that mean she had avoided the curse - that she was happier than Oscar or Olga? That was doubtful. From what Oscar could see, Maritza was a girl who seemed to delight in getting slapped around by her boyfriends. Since it happened to her all the time. If a boy hit me, Lola said cockily, I would bite his face.

See Maritza: French-kissing on the front stoop of her house, getting in or out of some roughneck’s ride, being pushed down onto the sidewalk. Oscar would watch the French-kissing, the getting in and out, the pushing, all through his cheerless, sexless adolescence. What else could he do? His bedroom window looked out over the front of her house, and so he always peeped her while he was painting his D&D miniatures or reading the latest Stephen King. The only things that changed in those years were the models of the cars, the size of Maritza’s ass, and the kind of music volting out the cars’ speakers. First freestyle, then Ill Will-era hiphop, and, right at the very end, for just a little while, Héctor Lavoe and the boys.

He said hi to her almost every day, all upbeat and faux-happy, and she said hi back, indifferently, but that was it. He didn’t imagine that she remembered their kissing - but of course he could not forget.

4. In the forties and fifties, Porfirio Rubirosa - or Rubi, as he was known in the papers - was the third-most-famous Dominican in the world (first came the Failed Cattle Thief, and then the Cobra Woman herself, María Montez). A tall, debonair prettyboy whose “enormous phallus created havoc in Europe and North America,” Rubirosa was the quintessential jet-setting car-racing polo- obsessed playboy, the Trujillato’s “happy side” (for he was indeed one of Trujillo’s best-known minions). A part-time former model and dashing man- about-town, Rubirosa famously married Trujillo’s daughter Flor de Oro in 1932, and even though they were divorced five years later, in the Year of the Haitian Genocide, homeboy managed to remain in El Jefe’s good graces throughout the regime’s long run. Unlike his ex-brother-in-law Ramfis (to whom he was frequently connected), Rubirosa seemed incapable of carrying out many murders; in 1935 he traveled to New York to deliver El Jefe’s death sentence against the exile leader Angel Morales but fled before the botched assassination could take place. Rubi was the original Dominican Player, fucked all sorts of women - Barbara Hutton, Doris Duke (who happened to be the richest woman in the world), the French actress Danielle Darrieux, and Zsa Zsa Gabor - to name but a few. Like his pal Ramfis, Porfirio died in a car crash, in 1965, his twelve-cylinder Ferrari skidding off a road in the Bois de Boulogne. (Hard to overstate the role cars play in our narrative.)

Reprinted from The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz by arrangement with Riverhead Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA), Inc., Copyright © 2007 by Junot Díaz

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