by Junot Diaz
I could never have predicted that there would come a time in my life when I would actually say “If this fellow alludes to, compares with, references, or in any other way mentions The Lord of the Rings one more time I think I will scream!” How could this have happened? How could a beloved novel become the source of such irritation? Thanks for nothing Junot Diaz!
If you can hack your way through the jungle of LOTR characters and lands and situations, you will discover that this is a novel about Oscar, an overweight and extremely nerdy Dominican boy growing up in New Jersey. It’s the tale of his search for love and his battle against the fierce fuku – an ancient curse – that plagues his family. It’s the epic story of one family’s journey from San Domingo and the tyrannically oppressive rule of Trujillo, to the oppressive tyranny of life in the American ghetto.
The crash course in Dominican history and politics over the past few decades was interesting, (mostly related in copious footnotes as though Diaz felt compelled to “fill in” the average American reader on the history of the Dominican Republic) but that was really all I found interesting about the book. Although the nerd in me was initially delighted by the LOTR references, and I could readily relate to Oscar’s desire to be the next J. R. R. Tolkien, I quickly got the picture – Trujillo is Sauron, he has Witch Kings, he has Ringwrathes, he has Orcs. GOT IT! Diaz tried to pass off this annoying ploy by making out that it was Oscar’s sister Lola’s sometimes-boyfriend who was the “watcher” and narrator of most of the story. Except for the part where Lola narrated for awhile, not that I could tell the difference (well actually, if I remember correctly, she offered a brief respite from the LOTR nonsense!)
I will grant that Oscar was tantalizingly intriguing (since he was seen only through the eyes of others I never got a solid sense of who he was) and that the book was somewhat funny and moved along at a brisk enough pace. I was mildly entertained, and kept mildly interested, but overall the book didn’t work for me.
My reaction comes down to this, briefly: I feel compelled to seek out other (better?) novels about the Dominican Republic, and find that my desire to read LOTR again this year has been zapped. Pooh.
This was the June pick for The Wolves. Around the end of July we will be discussing Orhan Pamuk’s Snow. Feel free to join us if you would like to!