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Julian Meynell's Books

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Diaz's The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao - Junot Diaz

The most important work of the post second world war literature is 100 Years of Solitude.  I would have preferred Lolita, 1984 or Last Exit to Brooklyn to be the most important work.  While I love 100 Years of Solitude, it has led to a lot of disappointing writing.  Oscar Wao is very much in that tradition, but Diaz is far superior a writer to similar contemporaries such as Eugenidies and Chabon.  

The book feels as if it is written on speed.  Unlike so many other contemporary writers, Diaz takes the shortest possible time to  get from A to B.  He also freely helps himself to any technique, such as writing in the second person when he feels like, putting in footnotes, switching into Spanish dialogue and filling the book with pop culture nerd references.  In the nerd references, he is very like Neil Stephenson or Bryan Lee O'Malley, but his use of them is more assured and purposeful.  It might interfere with the book lasting, because it is hard to get the book without a basic knowledge of Dominican history, the mechanics of Dungeons and Dragons and so on.  You can see a great deal of influences in the style.  As well as those already mentioned, he draws on Mario Vargas Llosa and there is a clear influence by Nabakov.  In its anarchic experimentalism, its close to Pale Fire in more than just the use of footnotes.

The whole thing is a delight.  I kind of feel that it is too good to have won the Pulitzer, which I find a suspect award even by the standard of literary awards.  I see that a lot of people have reacted negatively to it, but the sheer speed of the prose, throwing away of the rule book, along with an actual understanding of human beings is really refreshing.  It is also influenced by the post punk music that it references, you can see the influence of The Pixies, for instance.  Its anarchic speed and joy in suffering are pulled out of that music and inserted into a work of literature.  Its the only time I've seen that done in the forty years this music has existed.

The biggest problem that I see is that along with almost all contemporary writers of literature he has picked up from Garcia Marquez and other writers like Vonnegut an unfortunate tendency to patronize his characters.  In that the Scott Pilgrim comics, arguably the closest thing to this book are superior.  

Its a fantastic synthesis of so much writing of the last 40 years, and is written as if the author was on speed. It is bedeviled by the patronizing of the characters and in particular the ending, which finds beauty where it should find none is a problem.  If Diaz can learn to treat his characters as equals, he has the potential to become a great novelist.