But okay, first the big overall: I really loved it.
Oscar: Oscar breaks my heart. Absolutely breaks my heart. This sad little nerdy little fat kid who is so true at heart, has such good intentions, is sensitive and thoughtful and idealistic about love, but is so awkward and strange and dorky. He is so sweet, so sad, there are moments in the book where I am positively aching for him because he is so lonely and misunderstood. And I started thinking, what the hell is up with these girls that he falls in love with? Why do they lead him on? And then I think, maybe he's just too extreme. The whole time, I knew what end was coming, I mean it pretty much tells you throughout the book, and yet I just kept thinking it was the next page, or the next. I loved the sections with him the very most. Because he is so vulnerable, so sad. I just want to scoop him up and tell him it's okay.
The sections: In the beginning, I was a little iffy about the whole skipping back and forth in history thing, perhaps because I had a mind on craft. But having read through all of it, I don't think I minded, because it gave me a very full picture of the world that they live in, the context of it all. Oscar's sections were my favorite, but them alone would not have made this book as great. This is a love story in ways, but it is so much, so much more. This is a story of family, of culture, of history, of "diaspora" as Diaz says. Beli's section was heartbreaking too, this fall of naivety.
History. I've commented a little about the history before, but I really like the footnotes to help me contextualize everything. Funny, because I read Danticat's Farming of Bones so recently, and I got a little history lesson on the Parsley Massacre, and this is where I first learned of Trujillo. And so with that as context, I was set to really dive into this world of terror that he reigned over. Pretty awesome, if you ask me. I love learning things I otherwise would not have known.
Vocab. Oh god. I wish I had read this book in front of my computer so I could dictionary.com all day long. He uses all these words I don't know! [Probably good for my GRE studying] A couple words he really likes to use that I don't see often elsewhere that I noticed: askance, pulchritude, precipitous(ly). Other words I didn't know at all: septuagenarian, orchidaceous, ameliorative (okay this one I *kinda* knew), etc etc... there were so many! It makes me wonder what the hell kind of vocab Diaz has!
Spanish. I said this already, but oh man sometimes I just WANTED TO KNOW what the Spanish meant! Another reason I should have been sitting in front of a comp the entire time I was reading this book. But I have learned some words from context, including words for family members, though some things, for the life of me, I'm not sure what they are and by now, I'm too lazy to look all of them up.
Fantasy/Sci-fi references. I don't know a good portion of them, but it added color. It made me giggle.
Speaking of giggling. Oh, god, the book is so funny. I mean it's totally heartbreaking at moments, but so effing hilarious, I couldn't stop giggling like a crazy woman on the subway. There were just so many moments where I was like, "tee hee hee HEE!!" And I am a big dork so sometimes the dorkier things got to me, like this wonderful little exchange:
Hail, Dog of God, was how he welcomed me my first day in Demarest.
Took a week before I figured out what the hell he meant.
God. Domini. Dog. Canis.
--[pg. 171, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao]
Hee hee hee!!!! I remember exactly where I was when I read this (standing on the subway platform), and in order not to seem like a crazy person grinning to herself, I had to bite down on my lip pretty hard. I think Oscar's awkward, dorky dialogue helps, in contrast with the narrator's laidback, who-gives-a-fuck sort of language. I mean honestly, in between all the moments of total "GAH!" I was having for Oscar and his poor cursed family, I was tittering away to myself...
He mentions my town! Sorry, I just had to say that again.
Ending. I have a teensy issue with the ending, only because when I got to the third to last section, I thought that was a great ending, and then I got to the second to last section and I thought that was a great ending, and then I got to last section, and I thought that was a good ending, but after two endings that I thought were great, I was kinda like hmmm. I can see why, for narrative purposes it's there, but I'm not certain it has the same impact as the other two.
Sprawlingness. In the beginning, I was kinda not really for the wide net this book covered. I mean, the title is clearly about Oscar's life, so why were we spending so much time away from him and looking at his mom, sister, grandparents, whatever? After the first section of Oscar, I was itching to get back to him, because he had instantly become so beloved. Even as I was going through it, while I thoroughly enjoyed the non-Oscar sections, I really had to rein myself in and not follow the temptation to breeze through the other sections as fast as possible to get back to Oscar. Now having read the whole thing, like I said above, I'm glad it was all in there, because it made the story that much more rich. But the Oscar story-as-told-by-Yunior is by far the most compelling part of the book. While I was reading Beli's story, I liked it and felt for her; when I was reading Oscar's, I loved it and wept for him.
Yunior and Lola. Really?? :(
The Mongoose. I had to Wikipedia a what the hell a mongoose looked like. I had a weird cartoony image in my mind. Moonrat, you might like it. It sort of looks like a mole. But seriously, what was up with that? And the no-face man?!
Magical realismish. Some undertones of Marquez at points, I felt. But I like that.
And last but not least, love. Oh, silly, naive love. Idealized love. You read it and you kind of laugh at how crazy and silly Oscar is for love that isn't even requited, but at a very base level, you love him for it. Because it recalls a time when you were young and you hoped for pure love like that. Because even if you're a cold, cynical, unromantic person, you can't help but admire someone so pure of heart. I would smack my son over the head if he did what Oscar did, but at the same time, I would love him for being so full of love. Maybe even a little bit jealous. I find the final scenes with Oscar (fourth to last section) so incredibly affecting. Crazy he is, but touching. There's this, so cheesy in a way, but in context, moving:
He told them that what they were doing was wrong, that they were going to take a great love out of the world. Love was a rare thing, easily confused with a million other things, and if anybody knew this to be true it was him. He told them about Ybon and the way he loved her and how much they had risked and that they'd started to dream the same dreams and say the same words. He told them that it was only because of her love that he'd been able to do the thing that he had done, the thing they could no longer stop, told them if they killed him they would probably feel nothing and their children would probably feel nothing either, not until they were old and weak or about to be struck by a car and then they would sense him waiting for them on the other side and over there he wouldn't be no fatboy or dork or kid no girl had ever loved; over there he'd be a hero, an avenger. Because anything you can dream (he put his hand up) you can be.
--[pgs. 321-322, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao]
So I must say again: I really really enjoyed this book. Which I'm so happy about, considering my initial reservations before I even bought it.[Though the question remains if I would have loved it as much if Junot Diaz was a total asshole.]