In this slim collection of short stories, Diaz examines broken relationship, typically romantic ones, though a running theme throughout the book is also the relationship between brothers. Most of these stories revolve around Yunior, a character that has appeared in other books by Diaz. Diaz has a particular style that just really knocked me out. He often speaks in a crude, conversational tone, peppered with liberal profanities and then he’ll suddenly switch to a very erudite, intellectual tone, using words that even I had never heard before. Likewise, he toggles between English and Spanish with incredible facility. Occasionally an entire paragraph will crop up in Spanish and you kind of glean things from context. And sometimes he writes stories about Yunior in the second person, so that the stories are addressed directly to the ready; that’s a really difficult thing to pull off and few writers will even give it a shot, but Diaz makes it work. It’s really intense writing. It just really grabbed me and kind of shook me with its vividness. The stories are typically very strong. The worst one, Otravida, Otravez, is the only one in the book that changes tone and perspective and is about a young factory worker unconnected to any of the other stories. The other stories, which range anywhere from four pages to forty, all tell a somewhat connected story, though fragmented and out of order. Diaz ended up getting a Genius Grant at some point and he’s exactly the kind of guy you want to see get one. There were times in this book when things got a little overbearing and I felt like I needed a break from Diaz’ intense prose, but even when I wasn’t entirely sure if I liked what Diaz was doing, there was simply no question that no one else is doing anything even remotely the same. It’s striking, brilliant, challenging, deeply moving and an absolutely essential read. And one you won’t forget anytime soon. 4 stars.
tl;dr – Diaz’ unique style brings intensity and emotional rawness to these stories of fractured relationships and human failure; sometimes difficult, but ultimately brilliant and rewarding. 4 stars.