Junot Díaz may have put himself into a corner. In 1996, the author penned Drown, a collection of short stories about the Dominican immigrant experience, as told through the perspective of one Yunior de Las Casas. Eleven years later, Díaz produced his debut novel, The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, a story about Oscar Wao told from the perspective of the same Yunior. This was Díaz's breakthrough, the book that brought him to the attention of many. Now Díaz has put out another book, This Is How You Lose Her—not surprisingly filled with more Yunior. Thing is, Yunior's quite an asshole. He's fun to hate and as long as you don't associate him with the author, it's easy to see this Yunior as a figure meant to illuminate the flaws of the character and stand as a rally cry against the machimso. Problem is, word has gotten around that Yunior is semi-autobiographical. What does this mean about the author? Is he this big of a jerk? Several articles that can be found on the Internet seem to say “no,” but this won't stop some readers from saying “yes.” It's difficult to know what to belief, and probably should be irrelevant, but some readers are going to associate Díaz with his favorite creation. But even without having been identified with Yunior, Díaz may have put himself in a tight spot. Three out of three well-known works, all with similar themes, all featuring the voice of Yunior. And now Díaz wants to write an epic science-fiction novel. In regards to talent, I believe he can do it, but will his readers follow him? What is the term for authors who “typecast” themselves?
Yunior perhaps shows some hope of redemption in This Is How You Lose Her. He at least seems to be mildly aware of his faults. And this, in my opinion, is what makes this Díaz's most mature book yet. I enjoyed Drown, but its scope was broader and Díaz was, after all, a young writer. ...Oscar Wao was good, but it failed to completely engage me. This one, however, was more mature, better written, and so clearly focused that I couldn't help but enjoy it despite Yunior.
I hope to attend a talk Díaz gives next week, and it is then I hope to get a clearer sense of who Díaz is. It doesn't matter much—the man can write and that's what should count—but I think if I can disassociate Díaz from Yunior, I will be able to enjoy his work at a deeper level. And if I can sever the association of Junot and Yunior, I think it will make the next journey with Díaz a smoother one, whether it be the far reaches of space, or the streets of New Jersey.