The great Canadian singer/songwriter and known cynic Joni Mitchell most famously wrote that “you don’t know what you got ’till its gone.” What you realize after reading some of these stories is the lack of perspective that enables mistakes to take shape in relationships (usually from the men’s side) to ultimately lead to the end of said relationship leaving the man desperate for a reprieve. There are small mistakes like forgetting to take out the garbage, coming home late after a longer than expected night out with the boys, or having a momentary lapse where you take your loved one for granted. These for the most part, when dealing with rational people, are forgivable mistakes. What you see in some of these stories is that the young men more often than not make decisions that change the course of their relationships forever.
After conflict resolution has been established/coerced/forced she may say that she forgives you, but you know more than anyone that things just ain’t quite right. Over time what you come to understand is that the sparkle in her eye has lost its luster, the room starts to become a little colder when she’s around, she’s having a few more headaches than usual. Essentially the excitement, the thrill, the enjoyment that you two had together will never be experienced with the same enthusiasm again. That look that you got beforehand, where nobody else in a given room existed but you, will be left for another man, because this is how you lose her. The depressing thought is that if this girl is as good as you say she is, you won’t know how long it will be before she in fact leave’s you, and you will have nobody to blame but yourself. Tick. Tick. Tick. My advice to him is to stick to women that you could care less about because it’s obvious some people can’t have nice things. It makes the whole process go a lot more smoothly.
The Sun, the Moon, the Stars- A forgiving Cuban young lady meets a casual Dominican young man. The sex is good, but the love is forever one-sided. Initially one seemingly couldn’t do no wrong, until they do and changes to a once predictable behaviour are occurring, distance has become longer, and love has lost all of its elasticity. If you could change one moment in time to make things all better, would you?
“All I can manage is a memory of the first time me and Magda talked. Back at Rutgers. We were waiting for an E bus together on George Street and she was wearing purple. All sorts of purple.
And that’s when I know it’s over. As soon as you start thinking about the beginning, it’s the end.”
Nilda- Every girl wants to be with him, a modern day Don Juan when he wants to be, unfortunately he is more of a fighter than a lover. When anything but home is a comfort to her, she is willing to withstand plenty so she won’t have to go back. Forever waiting for her blanket, when one starts to fray she is on to the next one. Like a moth to a flame, she’s flying on a path, praying it’s a light. Alma- Story of how for a brief moment in time opposites attract, your interests in each other keeps things fresh, new, a welcomed experience. What remains the same throughout all relationships is that honesty is the answer when in the face of the judge, the jury, the executioner. Otravida, Otravez- The struggles that face new immigrants involve the steps in assuming a new life of being a stranger in a strange land, and the leaving behind of your previous life. Some things are hard to let go of, time doesn’t make it easier, distance is only a plane ticket away, but day-to-day survival remains your focus. Seeing yourself in younger people makes you realize the way your life could’ve went, but grateful for where it has ended up and the resolve shown. Like one assumes the debt of their loved one as their own, sometimes their past life must be included as well. Some people deserve a second chance at life. Flaca- One views the relationship as purely physical while the other has higher expectations. Together they use sex to heal wounds. After some time apart one realizes that time doesn’t in fact heal all wounds and with that, neither does sex. Like Keyser Soze, in the morning, she’s gone.
The Pura Principle- Cancer may have stopped some of his girls from making their rounds, but it didn’t stop one young man from maintaining his authority on the streets. With his physical deterioration, his inner confidence was shaken and he married a girl that he would have seen through beforehand. One girl stuck by him at his worst times, oddly enough it was one he physically abused over a 2 year period, but it was purely emotional. There are times when you may want to lose the one you have while you think about the one that got away.
“He grabbed me. Any other time of our lives this would have been no contest – he would have broken me in four – but the rules had changed. I couldn’t decide which was greater: the exhilaration of beating him at something physical for the first time in my life or the fear of the same.”
Invierno- A family reunion after five years apart in New York in the dead of winter. That’s enough for anyone to take, let alone a few young children and their mother from the tropical climate of the Dominican Republic. The only interaction with their father after being apart five years is disciplinary. Culture shock to say the least, however it is delayed after spending all of their time learning the language via the TV screen and being secluded in their small apartment throughout the dead of winter. Miss Lora- As you suddenly lose hold of your only role model that helped keep you safe from external forces, the Cold War re-establishes thoughts of your own demise. A long-term neighbour starts assuming a more important role in your life. Unconventional to say the least, but a presence that was very much needed. Miss. Lora, you’re trying to seduce me. Aren’t you?
The Cheaters Guide to Love- Cheating is grounds for dismissal. Dismissal can lead to depression. Depression leads to weight gain. Weight gain leads to attention from woman that don’t even compare to the lady that dumped your sorry ass. Settling for a woman leads to uncharted territory because no one woman is alike. Impatience brings you back to square one, depression, body starts to break down. A dose of your own medicine was prescribed for his bad four year case of the ex.
“The half-life of love is forever.”
Like all short story collections some were better than others. For me I didn’t like the desperation of The Sun, the Moon, the Stars, as a man it made me cringe. Didn’t care much for Invierno except for the ending which was awesome. The Pura Principle pissed me off. I didn’t care much for Otravida, Otravez. I loved Nilda it was heart-wrenching but I loved it. The Cheaters Guide to Love was funny in a dish best served cold sort of way. I liked Miss Lora because Yunior kind of lived out a dream of mine that I had at his age, woman probably won’t appreciate it like I did. Flaca had a good presence of mind about it.
The overabundance of Latino slang and terminology was tiresome, a little would have gone a long way for the sake of credibility. If you enjoyed this book you will probably like the movie Raising Victor Vargas, very similar in many ways. The author shows that he has his ear to the street and is a genuine voice for a demographic during the late 1970’s and on. This is my first taste of Junot Díaz’s work, it won’t be my last, but it will be a while before I take the plunge again.