Dropping F-bombs in church may seem sacrilegious, but it’s not, especially when those bombs are dropped by Junot Diaz, the Pulitzer Prize winning author of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2008). If you’re not familiar with Diaz’s work, I suggest that you start with his short story collection, Drown.
Diaz emigrated to the United States from the Dominican Republic at an early age. He grew up in Parlin, New Jersey, and this is where his experience as an immigrant, and son of a tough-as-nails father, shaped his worldview and his writing. Far from the streets of Parlin, Books & Books hosted a reading and book signing with Diaz at the regal Coral Gables Congregational Church just across the street from the famed Biltmore Hotel. Standing in front of the church alter beneath a blue cross, Diaz used his intelligence and wit, words and intonations, to teach us something about the power of the uncensored self and creative/destructive force inherent in fear. But before the reading began, Diaz opened the floor to questions from the audience. A graduate student from the University of Miami asked Diaz if his own experiences with fidelity (or infidelity) made it’s way into his latest book, This is How You Lose Her. Without irony or malice, Diaz replied: “I’m a cheater.” Enough said.
As Diaz read from his latest book, his words brought Yunior to life — the gritty almost good-for-nothing character who is so flawed, he’s perfect. He’s the kind of guy you’d expect to be dropping F-bombs left and right just before walking into church on Sunday morning. Cheating with 50 women over six years? Not a good idea when your fiance says she’ll machete you if you ever cheat on her.
Diaz’s characters are complicated. They’re self-destructive and empowered. Repulsive and ruthlessly honest. This is what make them compelling. They mirror the everyday lives of immigrants who search for dignity in a culture that gives them little in return. And just like his characters, Diaz is a complicated being. But a real being. Flawed. Luminous. Intelligent. And this is what gives his work street cred.