Monday, June 7, 2010

day 20: i fell in love with junot diaz

The last time I immediately connected with a writer in a way that made me say “fuck yeah” I was 21 years old and visiting the south side of Chicago.

My then-boyfriend and I had taken a road trip to see the Cubs play, and at a bookstore down the street from Wrigley I discovered Dangling in the Tournefortia by Charles Bukowski.*

Being so young, I had not yet seen anyone write the way he did and get away with it:
From "I didn't want to"
it is difficult for me to get interested or angry.
when a cop stops me for some infraction I simply sink
into some great sea of disgust.
“do you want to know what you did, sir?” he asks me.
“no,” I say.
I’ve been sitting in this
room for hours typing, and drinking
red wine.
I thought I was
alone here. the door is closed
and the window.
now a big fat fly
ugly and black sits on the edge
of my wine glass.
where did it come
from? so silent, motionless
like that.
that’s the way
it might be with death.
Despite being a skinny girl from a middle-class Kansas City suburb, I somehow related to this middle-aged drunk living with whores in Los Angeles motels. In our own way we each tested the limits of what felt safe and crossed lines that left us vulnerable and exposed but ultimately still bored with our own extremism.

Then this spring I visited a St. Louis bookstore with my boyfriend Jason, and while bending over to pet the resident cat I spotted Drown by Junot Diaz.

From the first story about two young boys in the Dominican Republic plotting to steal the mask of another boy whose face was eaten by pigs, I was owned. The story played on my natural sense of voyeurism with the unsympathetic and sometimes cruel curiosity of children.

And the rest of the book doesn't lighten up. The characters of Drown inhabit a world of perpetually leaky faucets, stolen jewelry, and thin walls through which you can hear the daily dramas of the people above and below you. 

But Diaz’s matter-of-fact, occasionally cynical voice belies the stories’ quiet tragedies – a boy’s father abandons his family; a teenager carries on a dead-end relationship with a crack-addicted hooker; a pool table delivery boy helps a young maid escape an abusive relationship with her boss – and makes them at times even funny.

In fact, most of the characters’ experiences are accompanied by little introspection or analysis. Yunior, an adolescent boy who appears in several of the stories, has not yet begun to string together the moments of his life to make whole, meaningful events. And this, I believe, is the part of Drown I love most, as in terms of growing the fuck up already I’m a late bloomer.

*Yes, I know he’s not considered a “literary” writer and it’s a stretch to even call him a poet, but he’s gritty, dammit, and that’s how I like ‘em sometimes.

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