It's hard to tell how his voracious reading—in a recent New York Times Q&A he rattles off influences like Doris Lessing, Alejandro Zambra, Tolkien, and of course the inevitable Bolaño—inhabits every subtle turn of his narrative, even when voiced by the youngest version of Yunior. But when an artist works that hard and you don't notice, it's a sign of greatness. While "Invierno" trades in an obvious metaphor about winter and the relative coldness of white-flighting gringo neighbors, its most enthralling moment is when Díaz revels in the edgy claustrophobia of being alone with a stranger when he has Yunior follow a young girl into an abandoned concrete pipe.
She sat in the pipe, crosslegged and grinning. She took her hands out of her mittens and rubbed them together. We were out of the wind and I followed her example. She poked a finger at me. Yunior, I said. Elaine, she said.
And of course there is Díaz's relentlessly uncompromising Spanglish-dropping. "Dude was figuerando hard." Homegirl had "fly tetas." "Clava saca clavo. Nothing saca nothing." You remember the epigraph from his first collection, "Drown," right? It was a quote from Gustavo Pérez Firmat that went: "The fact that I am writing in English already falsifies what I wanted to tell you." Just imagine all those people in Latin America reading this shit in Spanish and losing the code-switching in translation.
If you are one of those ugly bespectacled creatures with an up-your-culo subscription to The New Yorker, you've read many of these tales before, and in my case, re-reading some of these throwdowns reminded me of various etapas of my own sordid post-macho existence. By the time you get to the last story, the one that gives its name to the collection, it's as if he's recapitulating all those ex-girlfriends you had when you read "Nilda," "Flaca," and "The Pura Principle."
"This Is How You Lose Her" is Yunior approaching mid-life crises, blowing it with his casi-comprometida squeeze after she found out he was cheating on her with a hundred million sucias he'd met in the MIT Library or a merengue joint in Mattapan (that's peripheral Boston for you non-Ivy League types). Yunior (the second-person You) gets fat, runs compulsively to lose the pounds, injures his foot, dates a too-young graduate student, and, finally, accompanies a real man—a Dominicano who'd served in Iraq—to the deepest campo in Quisqueya.
Woody Allen pops up again, like that speech Alan Alda makes in Crimes and Misdemeanors when he says "tragedy + time = comedy," a little device Díaz uses when angry white Bostonians repeatedly throw things at him as he's driving or jogging. Sometimes the material is too close to Nuyorican pendejos like me for comfort. I could swear I met Arlenny, Yunior's sounding board for his failed single life, at a book party recently, for instance.
But never is Díaz more profound and honest than when he describes the chaotic beauty of the Dominican campo and shows how it can never be erased from his Pulitzer Prize-winning, multi-vocal, Bahktin-influenced ass. End-of-macho intimations or no, the most beautiful marriage in his literary world would never be between Yunior and his myriad conquests, it is the one between his distillation of the illing, sucker-filled city that gave us hip-hop and Dorothy Parker, and the sweet mango smells and missing teeth of the rural tropical jungle that birthed us.