Junot Diaz’s Drown
I’m re-reading Junot Diaz’s first book, a collection of stories called Drown, and I’m not enjoying it quite as much as I remember doing the first time through, which was several years ago. Don’t get me wrong, it’s good, especially the stronger pieces like “Aguantando” and the title story, but it lacks the whimsicality and playful imagination of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, which is perhaps what is missing for me this time through; it’s not the book that has changed, it’s me and my perception of the author. Drown is gritty and depressingly realist — or perhaps realistically depressing — full of rough and tumble Dominican boys trying to grow up or just to survive in their hardknock poverty-stricken or immigrant worlds. You can certainly see a bit of Diaz’s development into the Pulitzer Prize winning writer he has become (though Drown itself was a national bestseller, let’s not forget), and there’s little Yunior, the predecessor for the narrator of The Brief Wondrous Life, in many of the stories. Diaz’s little boys, Rafa and Wilfredo and Yunior and all the rest, are priceless; they make these stories not coming of age tales so much as stories of discovery. If you’re interested in reading Diaz, I’d skip straight to The Brief Wondrous Life, but Drown is definitely worth a read for excellent examples of tightly-woven and skillfully-written short stories.