July 23, 2012: “The Cheater’s Guide to Love” by Junot Díaz
There certainly are things I like about this story. Díaz’s character Yunior is with us again—always—but he’s older now, and in pain. Granted, the pain is of his own making, but what’s good about that is that by the end of the story he comes to understand this. As Díaz himself says in the Q&A with Junot Díaz, Yunior finally seems to be seeing women as fully human beings, which hasn’t been the case before.
Here’s the story: Yunior, who teaches in Boston, is in a relationship with a woman in New York. She’s great and demands fidelity. He blows it—in a big way—and she dumps him. He’s broken up by this and his friends, including Elvis, try to help him. He rebounds into a relationship with a beautiful law student, but she cons him and he deserves it. He starts running to get back into shape, but injures his foot. He does yoga, but injures his back. He has mysterious tingling numbness in his arms—all representative of his inability to feel.
But he does make a connection—with Elvis’s bastard son in the D.R. It’s definitely a sign of maturity for Yunior, but he recognizes that Elvis has been had by the mother of the child. Yunior is growing up, although it’s not clear that he’s going to find the happiness he longs for.
I saved my complaint for last. The story is in second person, as Yunior is detached from himself, looking at how he came to be in the sorry position he finds himself in. So, okay, that makes second person almost work here—Yunior the narrator isn’t really the same as Yunior the character. And I gather that the new story collection of which this is part will be much the same—the title is This is How You Lose Her, so the point of view is going to work in the context of the book. (Díaz channels Lorrie Moore?)
I felt sad reading this, not for Yunior and what went on in the story, but for what this is telling me about Junot Diaz. Is this guy a one-trick pony whose trick is winding down? (I feel a sense of trepidation writing this knowing how revered and beloved Diaz is. Speaking for myself, though, i think he’s way over-rated.)
I love the story idea and I definitely applaud the way Diaz is putting Yunior into adult situations, as he should considering the character is about 40 (close to Diaz’s age). But I’m sorry, however adult the situations were, Yunior’s voice, as I perceived it from the story, was still the voice of a poor 20-something wise-a** testosterone-crazed barrio boy. There was not one sentence in that story that made me believe I was hearing from a 40-something university professor. There were plenty of places where Diaz tried, but I do not think he came close to pulling it off. And given the commonalities we’re continuing to see between Yunior’s life and Diaz’s life, one would think Diaz ought to be able to really nail this. But I’m not seeing it.
This story has me thinking back to a late Kurt Vonnegut novel (possibly “Breakfast of Champions”) where he released all his long-term multi-novel characters, sets them free. After reading this, I really think it’s time for Diaz and Yunior to toast the good things they did for one another over the years, shake hands and hug and then part company. Unfortunately, though, given Diaz’s upcoming collection, this does not seem to be in the cards.
I agree with you Marc. I think Diaz is being pretty lazy sticking with Yunior. Time for a new alter ego.
Also, this story’s kind of harsh on Boston, don’t you think. Not that I could truly know, of course. And there was the Henry Louis Gates incident in 2009, which is similar to Yunior’s experience, so maybe it’s accurate.
Yes, I thought of mentioning Boston but held back because I don’t live there and don’t know for sure. That said, I do live in a Latino-dominated neighborhood in Queens, NY (Jackson Heights) and racial profiling does exist (the police even admit and defend it). But assuming such profiling takes place in Boston too (the story indicates it does), by now, Yunior should be way, way, way beyond the stage where he’d fit a target profile. Now if Boston is different and the portrayal in this story is reasonable, it would warrant much more attention than the throwaway clauses Diaz tosses here and there; it would be so outrageous as to warrant being a theme of a separate story or at least a more significant sub-theme in this story. And if Yunior is so accustomed to it that he takes it for granted, that would deserve to be driven home. There really is a lot Diaz could do with his chosen genre if he could only part ways with his overused alter ego and stop trying to impress everyone with Yunior’s sexual athleticism (which, by the way, also goes way beyond the point of credibility).
Reminds me of “The Girls Guide to Hunting and Fishing,” but less interesting. Would have been better at half the length. We get it man, you’re Dominican. I feel like the New Yorker ran it to show blancos how few Spanglish words they know. Not their best fiction, and written by an unknown (high school) author it would have have seen the light of day.
This story sent me reeling when I read it — not because of the force of the prose, but because it seemed so familiar. Then I remembered (well, google helped remind me) this story from 2010, in Epiphany:
A little too similar? Is Diaz that desperate for ideas?
Rex, Very interesting! It’s made more similar, I think, by the use of second person. All these second person stories sound alike to me. Thanks for bringing that one to our attention.
Although yunior doesnt sound 40’ish I can definately say that the character does sound like an immature hispanic male womanizer. Being a latina myself I’ve met a lot of Yunior types that dont want to grow up and are still about chasing tail. I think Diaz pegged the character right.