Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Book Club: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

This is the most recent book we have read for book club. I did not enjoy the story or the story-telling style. The author (Junot Diaz) make several obscure references (from role playing games, science fiction movies, fantasy novels, slang Spanish, Dominican history). The story is very fatalistic (everything is bad, it will always be bad, and life is a constant battle to stay above the water-line). This is also an epic; it starts with Oscar and also relates the story of Oscar's sister, mother, grandfather, and more.

The book is very vulgar. The main women are portrayed as sluts with the most explicit language referring to anatomy and dead-end sex. The Dominican men are nothing more than Lotharios with the notable exception of Oscar who probably would be if not for his unappealing personality and looks.

I did find all of the Rutgers references entertaining. I was actually in RU Gamers (one of the girls the author did not credit with existence) and helped organize the very first gaming conference held on the Rutgers campus. Because I am a sci-fi fan, have read most popular fantasy, and have gamed, I understood a lot of the references that others would have to ignore.

The historical references (though not the foreign-to-me slang) were usually explained with copious footnotes. I found this distracting and ended up ignore them during the story since the references were very shallow and the story did not turn on them.

Even though I understood some of the obscure phrases, much of the book was inaccessible to me. It is likely that the inaccessible parts were just as unimportant as the other parts I did get (or that were footnoted), but I cannot help feel that the book would have been more enjoyable for people who enjoyed all of the inside information.

I am glad I bought this book right after the last meeting. It's been like a dark cloud sucking my joy from reading. I did not feel I could read enjoyable material while I had the obligation to read this book. Can't wait to throw this book out (or pass it on to someone who is more interested).


LB said...

Thanks for your review, Kim. I've actually heard rumblings about it that were positive.

Kim said...

I know someone who loved it too. Noone that came to our book club tonight really enjoyed it. A few others liked it, but most seemed to dislike it. I could only read three pages before I had to put it down.

The end (if you can swallow it) might be slightly redeeming, but only half-way.