Our Wordsmith Wednesday this week is the opening paragraph in Junot Diaz’s short story “Otravida, Otravez” from his 2012 collection This Is How You Lose Her.
The words are:
“He sits on the mattress, the fat spread of his ass popping my fitted sheets from their corners. His clothes are stiff from the cold, and the splatter of dried paint on his pants has frozen into rivets. He smells of bread. He’s been talking about the house he wants to buy, how hard it is to find one when you’re Latino. When I ask him to stand up so I can fix the bed, he walks over the window. So much snow, he says. I nod and wish he would be quiet. Ana Iris is trying to sleep on the other side of the room. She has spent half the night praying for her children back in Samana, and I know that in the morning she has to work at the fabrica. She moves uneasily, buried beneath comforters, her head beneath a pillow. Even here in the States she drapes mosquito netting over her bed.”
Diaz has a way of blending crassness and compassion in way that beautifully mirrors normal life. With prose that is both blunt and elegant, his writing makes you feel as though you are watching the smooth, powerful movement of a skilled boxer. In just one paragraph in “Otravida, Otravez,” Diaz assumes the voice of a female narrator, establishes with some complexity her relationships with both a lover and roommate, comments on the hardships of being a working class Latino in America, vividly engages the senses, and has space to slide in some humor. While this is only a taste of his talent, I believe it highlights his trademark ability to use his lens as the son of Dominican immigrants to confront universal truths of human relationships with honesty and empathy. Good luck, Yunior.