Arts book review

The other side of love

This is How You Lose Her is a masterpiece of real-life expression

CORRECTION TO THIS ARTICLE: An earlier version of this article incorrectly referred to Díaz as a Professor of Literature. He is a Professor of Writing in the Writing and Humanistic Studies program.

This is How You Lose Her

By Junot Díaz


September 2012

In This Is How You Lose Her, Junot Díaz, MIT Professor of Writing, recipient of the Pulitzer Prize in 2008 and recent winner of a MacArthur Genius Grant, speaks on love. We’ve all heard love stories before, so in the strictest sense this book isn’t anything new. A mother’s devotion to her family and love for her children drives her to withstand crippling captivity in fettered domestication; an older brother abuses his family in protest over his own medical decline; a cheater faces the cold, splintering reality that he’s fucked up one too many times and the love of his life is gone for good.

Been there, read that.

Or maybe not.

These are not stories you read because they’re new; these are stories you read because they feel real, for better or for worse, and my guess is that these will evoke real feelings for you, too. This Is How You Lose Her shows us the not-so-talked-about sides of love — hurtful love, regretful love, the love you threw away and won’t ever get back. They’re the ones no one wants to talk about. They divulge the details better left between you and God — “shit you wouldn’t even tell your boys drunk,” to quote Díaz.

The book unwraps into loosely-linked episodes concerning one central character, Yunior, a hard-headed Dominican transplant who can tell a story like an honest man bleeds. Each one of these is a good story, that’s for sure. But the separation between each one is pushed to its limits, so that by the end of the book you aren’t sure if you read a collection of short stories or a fragmented novel that needs some gluing. Díaz is playing with convention here and it begs for a second reading when you finish the book and ask yourself, “It’s done? Did I miss something?” It most certainly deserves a careful reading.

Reading Díaz feels like listening did before you even knew what a book was — like before you were told there was a right and a wrong way to do it. It’s deceiving because the language is so accessible that it’s easy to let your guard down and miss some of the higher-level structural and political games Díaz plays right in front of you, like the effect of time on feelings or the persistent double standard for sexual relationships. These stories are not tightly packaged puzzles with twisted plot lines, intricate sentences, and opaque symbolism — they’re a slam poet’s pass at prose, a torch-light procession of unapologetic confession. The language is crude but articulate — offensive to the self-important and over the heads of the culturally insular — the metaphor natural and clarifying. Díaz’s ease with expression is often times mesmerizing enough, and if that’s all you get out of this book, it will be satisfying. But if you look for more, Díaz will connect with you, and you, eager reader, you will feel.