Heyo, me again.
First things first, I am pleasantly surprised by the amount of support I’ve received about this already, only one post in. From ideas for future topics to general messages of support and encouragement, I am incredibly grateful to everyone who’s contacted me about this so far. I’ll try not to let you down.
Amongst other things, one of the most common questions I get from people nowadays is “What are you reading?” It’s a fair enough question, I suppose, given that my degree is in several ways nothing more than a glorified book club, and that with six/seven contact hours a week, reading consumes most of the time I set aside to study, whether I’m in York or not. So I figured that today I’d talk a little bit about a book I’ve read recently that I’m now writing a paper on: a 2007 novel by Dominican American author Junot Díaz called The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Winner of the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, and Díaz’s only novel to date, it’s probably the best thing I’ve read so far in my time at York, or at least top two. Which given how much I read makes it, to quote Anchorman (sorry), kind of a big deal. To me, anyway.
Oscar Wao follows the story of teenage nerd Oscar De Leòn over the course of his short life, as well as the lives of his sister Lola, friend/roommate Yunior (who narrates the text), mother Beli, and grandfather Abelard. This tapestry of Oscar’s family history is intertwined with an account of the regime of Rafael Leónidas Trujillo Molina, one of the most brutal of the Latin American dictatorships of the 20th century (yeah, I didn’t know shit about them either), as well as countless references to ’70s/’80s nerd culture and science-fiction in the U.S, and various stereotypes of the Dominican American diaspora. In short, it’s awesome.
The main thing I wanted to talk about, however, is Oscar himself, and how incredibly, wonderfully, miserably relatable he is. The fat nerd bullied at school; the teenage bookworm who dreams of being the Dominican Tolkien; the lonely human being clutching for something more than his terrestrial existence: I believe that everyone can relate to Oscar in at least one aspect of his character. His key struggle, and the main flaw which he attempts to overcome in the ‘Bildungsroman’ side of the novel is his complete inability to get laid. In spite, I might add, of his best efforts, this fat lonely nerd – for all the wonderful qualities he has – is unable to even kiss a girl after he turns 7. Which wouldn’t be a problem, if he weren’t such a hopeless romantic, falling in and out of love with pretty much every girl he walks past, and resulting in him being a depressive wreck at several points in his life, attempting to take his own life twice, and displaying a tendency toward self-destruction which ultimately leads to his early death.
Oscar never changes who he is. He is well aware that losing weight, dressing better, and perhaps not mentioning his absolute commitment to the alternative Genres of fiction as a conversation starter might well aid his attempts to garner female attention. But he can’t even change how he speaks. Whilst most of us shift style according to audience (you wouldn’t speak to your teacher in school the same way you’d speak to your dog, I hope!), Oscar’s ‘nerdery’ shines through in every word. When he tries to chat up girls by telling them he’d give them eighteen charisma in a role-playing game, it’s perhaps unsurprising that until the last weeks of his life, Oscar remains a virgin.
Despite this, he never backs down. In a Werther-esque display of commitment, he refuses to compromise his identity, or indeed tone down his passion for sci-fi, writing, or women, even when it is this last obsession which leads to his untimely end, at the hands of the jealous lover of the one woman who ever sleeps with him. In this, as in all things, Oscar is unmoving. Who he is; how he, and not others, see him: this is what makes him so wonderful. He is broken, fucked-up, flawed, lonely, lost.
And he is beautiful.
Oscar has moved me in a way that few other characters have done. And I think, even in the (hopefully) many years of reading I have left on this Earth, that there will always be a place in my heart, a space on my shelf, for Oscar Wao. Whilst Hobbes would have considered his life “nasty, brutish, and short”, Díaz’s label of “brief, wondrous” is far more fitting for the size of his heart, and the beauty in his soul.