I’ve met a fair share of cheaters in my lifetime — womanizers who count their love conquests the way they count the pennies in their pockets. To say I loathe them would be an understatement. To say I have pity for them would be a blatant lie.
Yet as much as I try, I can’t hate Yunior, the recurring character in Junot Díaz’s novels and the ultimate cheater in Díaz’s new book “This is How You Lose Her.” While Díaz’s “The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” is a coming of age story and “Drown” is a telling of the tribulations of being an immigrant in this country, “This is How You Lose Her” is more of Yunior’s manifesto — a narrative of his many infidelities and unintentional heartbreaks.
Told in first person, Díaz’s quick tongue prose delivers a raw view of the life of a cheater, detailing Yunior’s escapades at attempting to love yet always succumbing to his fate. “You had hoped the gene missed you, skipped a generation, but clearly you were kidding yourself,” he says at one point in the book, commenting on the unfaithful habits he inherited from his father and older brother Rafa.
But to categorize “This is How You Lose Her” as simply a cheater’s ego trip would be an oversight. Throughout Díaz’s nine stories you familiarize yourself with Yunior — his cancer-ridden brother, his submissive mother, his futile attempts to be accepted as a real Dominican man by his father — issues and events that shape him into a man that swings between wanting and rejecting love. This makes you want to kick him in the balls, as much as nestle him in your chest and tell him everything is going to be all right.
“Invierno,” the only chapter that doesn’t deal with infidelity, is one of the key stories that helps shed light on Yunior’s character. Having just arrived in New York from the Dominican Republic, we see Yunior as a child try to adjust to his new life in America. Not being allowed to go outside and play in the snow (simply because his father forbids it) he and his brother sit in front of the TV attempting to learn English from commercials and Sesame Street. His isolation, however, is not shown through him but by his mother who cries at having no one to talk to, who won’t leave the house because she’s afraid of getting lost, and who realizes that America is not all she dreamed it would be.
While each of the nine stories could stand on its own, each one nudges you into liking Yunior a little bit more. He is smart — nerdy even, smokes too much weed, is haunted by his need to satisfy Rafa, is awkward with girls, and grows up to be a professor at a Boston university. His infidelity is cast as a troubled habit more so than an intentional move to hurt women. “Of course you swore you wouldn’t do it. You swore you wouldn’t. You swore you wouldn’t. And you did,” he says while explaining the 50 affairs he had behind his fiancée’s back.
It’s Díaz’s writing that makes the book successful. It’s easy to write about infidelity, it’s grown to be a human condition almost, but to give a character like Yunior so much depth, to have readers connect, love and dislike him so intensely, requires a certain type of talent, which undoubtedly Diaz possesses. His writing not only allows you to develop sympathy for Yunior, but also turns you into a reluctant cheerleader, rooting for his lovers to forgive his indiscretions.
Díaz’s language, which tumbles between Dominican Spanish, street slang and academic terminology, creates a narrative that transports you into various worlds, various personalities. You can feel Yunior’s struggle to grasp the English language as a child, his attempt to appear blasé around his brother, and his not so smooth flirtation around the women he wants. It’s all captured in Yunior’s voice, which in a way, feels unsettling like Díaz’s alter ego.
The book becomes more than a story about infidelity. It’s about love, loss, insecurity, identity — all the benefactors that allow a dirty cheater like Yunior to gain your support and compassion, even when you try so hard to avoid it.