Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Decent things come in threes and onto Oscar Wao.

I just did my first practice GRE. Not too bad - 630 verbal, 610 math. I think I need to take a few more, and brush up on some vocab so I feel less frantic and more comfortable, but I'm pretty much going to stop stressing about studying for this test.

Incidentally, while I was taking this test, an email came through from one of the places I submitted, kindly informing me of my rejection. Tee hee. I mean, this was like a "real" place, aiming high, blah blah. I really didn't expect anything less (though I do admit that it made me wonder if it means admissions committees will totally reject me too, which I will care very very much about), but it kinda felt good to close the loop on one of my first submissions. Weird, but true: by being rejected I feel like I've accomplished something. I also happen to like the fact that they got back to me in ONE WEEK! How wonderful of them.

[To continue on a night of eventfulness, a boy also called right after, a boy I had stopped expecting to hear from, and very apologetically asked to see me again. This is out of the confines of normal blog posts, but I just like the fact that these not quite-brilliantly-happy-but-pretty-nice things happened in threes, so felt it was worth mentioning.]

Because I feel so accomplished for the day, I have decided I am allowed to start the next book on my list, which will be Junot Diaz's The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Because before I submit anything to him, I'd like to get a feel for his new novel.

But to kick off my love for him, let me highlight my favorite of the stories I've read so far from Drown. "Fiesta, 1980".

What I love about this story is that it deals with this kid, who's old enough to notice and articulate certain things, but young enough that he pukes every time he gets into a car. He's vulnerable and mixed up about his dad's blatant infidelity, but powerless to do anything, and all the while, he's at this weird party with family and aunts and cousins and what the hell is going on, and oh, he's not even allowed to eat! He's dealing with all sorts of crazy.

I love this scene:

How is it at home, Yunior?

What do you mean?

How's it going in the apartment? Are you kids OK?

I knew an interrogation when I heard one, no matter how sugar-coated it was. I didn't say anything. Don't get me wrong, I loved my tia, but something told me to keep my mouth shut. Maybe it was family loyalty, maybe I just wanted to protect Mami or I was afraid that Papi would find out - it could have been anything really.

Is your mom all right?

I shrugged.

Have there been lots of fights?

None, I said. Too many shrugs would have been just as bad as an answer. Papi's at work too much.

Work, Tia said, like it was somebody's name she didn't like.
-- [pg. 39, "Fiesta, 1980", Drown]

It captures perfectly, this little moment, this wanting to protect his mother from the awful truth so not being able to tell her sister, this fear of his father who is scary and sometimes mean, and all of this too much a burden for a young boy to shoulder.

And then later, he's watching his mom at the party, and he's thinking about her, thinking about what she must have been like when she was younger, before his dad came into the picture. He's thinking all his young thoughts, trying to piece things together and make sense of it, and then she catches him looking:

Mami must have caught me studying her because she stopped what she was doing and gave me a smile, maybe her first one of the night. Suddenly I wanted to go over and hug her, for no other reason than I loved her, but there were about eleven fat jiggling bodies between us. So I sat down on the tiled floor and waited.
--[pgs. 41-42, "Fiesta, 1980", Drown]


This moment of love coming from a boy who is maybe toeing the line between boy and adolescent, at a time when he's about to grow up, about to be too old to hug and kiss his mom for no reason, and you know that sooner or later, he's going to reject her, rebel, something like that, because that's what teenage boys do. But at this one moment in time, his mom (who rarely smiles) catches him looking at her, and she loves him, so she smiles. And he loves her, and he suddenly wants to show it. Maybe even to protect her, just a little bit, because in the back of his head he feels like he knows what's coming. I feel like we've all had those moments, where you're looking at someone you love and they're unaware of you, and in the moment right as they catch you, you get that big surge of affection. Unexplainable except for the fact that they exist.


And then this perfect ending. Perfect!

In the darkness, I saw that Papi had a hand on Mami's knee and that the two of them were quiet and still. They weren't slumped back or anything; they were both wide awake, bolted into their seats. I couldn't see either of their faces and no matter how hard I tried I could not imagine their expressions. Neither of them moved. Every now and then the van was filled with the bright rush of somebody else's headlights. Finally I said, Mami, and they both looked back, already knowing what was happening.
--[pg. 43, "Fiesta, 1980", Drown]

So much in this paragraph that is unspoken. And he's still this kid who sort of gets there's something happening, or maybe there isn't but he's just really scared, and he's in this car, and he's all confused and there was this big party and he usually pukes in cars... and it's just like this big manifestation of everything.

I LOVE this story, and I feel like it could easily make my list of top 5 stories now. I love how it's set in this unfamiliar (at least to me) setting, a people I'm not familiar with, but everything else I get. I've been to big family gatherings with all this potluck food and wonky aunts and stuff. I've been little and seen my parents fight and gotten scared and confused. I mean, I just think it's a really awesome piece, because while he never dives too far into how the narrator feels (because the kid basically just seems sorta confused), the environment is painted so perfectly around him.

Good good story. I'm excited about Oscar Wao now.

[edit: I just finished a very very first draft of my personal statement. I feel awesome.]

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