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Junot Diaz brings back Yunior

By Cindy Y. Rodriguez, CNN
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Tue September 18, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Dominican author Junot Diaz took the literary world by storm with his story about a "ghetto nerd"
  • The character Yunior narrates the inner dialogue of Diaz's books
  • Diaz offers no lessons, just an opportunity for readers to have encounters and conversations

(CNN) -- To claim fans have been eagerly waiting for Dominican author Junot Diaz's next book would be an understatement.

Diaz took the literary world by storm with "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao," a story about the life of "poor lovable" ghetto nerd Oscar de Leon, narrated by Yunior, the main protagonist in Diaz's first novel, "Drown." The story of a chubby Dominican boy growing up in New Jersey won a Pulitzer Prize in 2008, National Book Critics Circle Award, and was named Time's No. 1 Fiction Book of 2007. Not too shabby.

Now, in "This Is How You Lose Her," a collection of stories released last week, Diaz brings back the character of Yunior to tell the "important and necessary story of the inner lives of 'bad boys,' " as the acclaimed author says.

Born in Santo Domingo and raised in New Jersey, the Rutgers alum took some time out of his book tour to talk about his new book, what his family thinks of his writing and the unique voice in his work.

CNN: Was it difficult to write "This Is How You Lose her," considering all the attention "Oscar Wao" received?

Diaz: I don't think it was difficult for that reason. It's one thing to write something about a poor lovable nerd who in some ways who could not find love and whose larger culture sort of rejects him and another to write about a messed-up-in-the-head cheater. And, to make that character and that story in some ways sympathetic was the greater challenge.

CNN: Was "This Is How You Lose Her" more difficult to write than "Oscar Wao"?

Diaz: No, I wouldn't say that. With me, all books are incredibly difficult. They all come with their formidable challenges. I'm pretty much frightened of everything I write. This book just took longer. "Oscar" took me 11 years, this book took me 16 years. I don't think it was in any way more difficult, it just happened to take longer.

CNN: What inspired you to write this book?

Diaz: I think that you almost never get the inner life of men in any way that makes sense to men. Most of the books I read where we hear about men's internal life, I have to tell you, they are as far away from reality as you can imagine. These scientists always tell you that men spend every six seconds thinking about sex, but have you ever seen a book that in any way reflects sort of the larger masculine sensibilities?

I think part of me thought that it was important to get at men's inner lives and, more importantly, more personally to use a Dominican, New Jersey male in the background as sort of ground zero as the central reference.

CNN: What does your family think about your writing?

Diaz: I'm convinced they can't really wrap their minds around it. We're an immigrant family. We're a conservative family. I'm considered something of a nut because of the brutal honesty that I bring to some my stories. I think my family finds it a little appalling at times, but you know, what can you do?

You just pray that one day, they'll get around to reading it and see the value in it. Right now, I've got to tell you, it is not on the table. I can go visit my family for four or five years straight and no one will mention that I'm a writer. There's something mildly improper about it, more like something mildly disreputable about it.

CNN: Is the voice in "This Is How You Lose Her" similar to the way you speak?

Diaz: It's hard to say, because I live in so many different worlds ... the way I talk to my boys, family, work, the way I talk to my students, or the way I talk when I feel scared. The book is a highly wrought object. It's engineered. It may seem casual. It may seem conversational or vernacular, it may lead people to believe that this is my voice but if I read a page, you would begin to realize how artificial the experience is.

Fiction is an artisan that convinces its reader that it's real. The voice in the book, while it may have tone and highlights directly from me, this voice is highly artificial. It doesn't really represent the way I speak.

CNN: What is it that you want your readers to understand about this book?

Diaz: There's not a lesson that I'm sort of asking my readers to walk away from but more of an encounter and a conversation that I'm trying to encourage. Again, I think that if one wants to teach a lesson, it's so much better to write fiction.

With nonfiction, we have a totally different set of stakes. What I was most committed to was using this male Dominican experience to wrestle with, to encourage my readers to wrestle with, larger questions about masculinity, larger questions about relationships. Larger questions about intimacy.

Read an excerpt from "This Is How You Lose Her" here. This excerpt contains profanity; reader discretion is advised. Share your thoughts on Junot Diaz's work in the comments section below.

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