Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is compulsively readable; a novel written by a man who clearly has a firm grasp on the relationship between emotion and the written word. The book follows multiple generations of a Dominican-American family as they deal with love and a family curse. Diaz is a sort of master impersonator, effortlessly voicing a mother, daughter, a brother, or a boyfriend across various borders and generations. Combine that skill with a dash of magical realism, footnotes on Trujillo-era Dominican history—you’ll smile at the writing and cringe at the words—and the ability to be funny while gently reminding you that he has read pretty much everything there is to read, and you’ve got an extraordinary capable novel that fully deserved the 2008 Pulitzer Prize.
You see, Oscar Wao came out about five years ago. It’s already been comprehensively reviewed. But occasionally after a reader has finished a novel, his or her thoughts have an urgency that, hopefully, makes writing about it worthwhile again. I put Oscar Wao into an imaginary Pandora for books (Shout-out to this week’s print issue of Consider about the student entrepreneurial program “1000 Pitches”; someone should submit a pitch for a book Pandora. Wait, don’t—I’m copyrighting it) and got these results:
Gabriel Garcia Marquez—Cien años de soledad
We’re reading this book because you indicated that judicious use of the supernatural can make a book more real. Plus you are alright with Diaz employing Spanish words or passages when necessary, and you love multi-generational epics.
Christopher Hitchens: Hitch-22
Based on what you’ve told us so far, you like a text stuffed full of cultural references from an author who employs themes of history and (dual) nationality to give the experience of growing-up, and growing-old extra meaning. Your favorite author is like a spider who can’t decide what fly to eat—they’re all such easy prey. He flits around his web, name-dropping Sauron, Oscar Wilde, “Dune” and more Japanese animes than you knew existed.
Mark Haddon: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time
This book came up because you want each chapter to feel like the main character wrote it himself.
Michael Chabon: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay
You’ll like this book because you’re not afraid to admit that weirdos and losers can be cool, or that there is a place for a child’s imagination in adult fiction.
Philip Roth: Portnoy’s Complaint
Vulgarity, portmanteaus, and plain-old made up words are fine. You want an author who can speak for a people and capture and a time. And who more importantly is really funny.
Seriously, nobody steal that Pandora idea.
By: Noah Gordon
(Photo by Juando Morales under a Creative Commons License)