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Junot Díaz: “Miss Lora”

Click here to read the story in its entirety on The New Yorker webpage.  Junot Díaz’s “Miss Lora” was originally published in the April 23, 2012 issue of The New Yorker.

Click for a larger image.

It’s been just over two years since Junot Díaz’s ”The Pura Principle” was published in The New Yorker (click here for my thoughts).  In that story we spent time with Yunior and his brother Rafa, who was dying of cancer.  When “Miss Lora” begins, it is 1986.  Rafa has died, and Yunior, still suffering a “fulgurating” sadness, is about to realize he has more of his brother in him than he thought.

Years later, you would wonder if it hadn’t been for your brother would you have done it?  You’d remember how all the other guys had hated on her — how skinny she was, no culo, no titties, como un palito, but your brother didn’t care.

Rafa, like his father, was content to sleep with any woman.  The skinny woman above was a middle-aged school teacher whose toned muscles eliminated any fat from her body.  Yunior doesn’t particularly find her attractive; he would rather sleep with his Puerto Rican girlfriend, Paloma, but she doesn’t want to make any mistakes (and realizes that sleeping with him would certainly be one).

Suffering from grief, hormones, and a daily dread of a nuclear holocaust . . . well, we know where this is going, in part because of the first lines of the story: one day Miss Lora touches him, and he can tell it’s different:

Miss Lora touched you, and you suddenly looked up and noticed how large her eyes were in her thin face, how long her lashes were, how one iris had more bronze in it than the other.

They sleep together, this school teacher and this sixteen-year-old boy.  He’s insatiable for some time, and it’s only later, when he’s in college, that he feel comfortable enough to tell someone and that someone realizes the criminal nature of the events.

One thing I like about Díaz (and I admit I’m not a fan) is how even using ugly language — both in content and grammar — he’s able to have characters earn the reader’s sympathy, even if the character himself doesn’t realize anything is out of hand.  Here’s a Dominican boy growing up in New Jersey in the shadow of Manhattan, part of a culture where such things are relatively common, even looked on with pride.  And Díaz can present this without making judgments, leaving it for his readers to determine how they feel.

That said, I’m still not much of a Díaz fan, as much as I admire what he’s capable of doing.  I can’t quite get into the language which can, in a couple of lines, use a phrase like “hating on her” with a word like “fulgurating.”  I just haven’t wrapped my mind around that, and I had a similar hangup with The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (my review here), and I realize that it is my hangup.  I liked this story quite a bit more than “The Pura Principle” (which I thought meandering), and I sense that in time it will grow in my estimation, but I’m still hoping for something a bit different in the weeks to come.

3 thoughts on “Junot Díaz: “Miss Lora””

  1. Aaron says:

    I didn’t even remember the earlier story, but it hardly matters, as my problem with Diaz (ever since “Drown”) is that almost all of his stories sound/feel the same to me. I have the same hang-up with his language, too (“kinda” in the same sentence that refers to “untrammelled calamity”), which by this point seems show-off-y. It’s a bit like a stage magician who keeps using the same old tricks, even once the audience knows how it’s all done. The frame of what’s left, incidentally, doesn’t really hold up, either.

    Over on my blog (http://bit.ly/HKKCgv), I describe Miss Lora as “a guardian-angel-with-benefits” and she’s really too perfect to lend this story any real emotions. She saves “You” from a dead-end job and dead-end life (ironic, when you consider it’s his brother who died, and his brother who she probably loved), all without the slightest hint of desire on her end. Likewise, there’s nothing gained from “Your” relationship with Paloma, and it’s remarkable that Diaz chooses to avoid even the formal drama he’s been hinting at — his mother finds out and dismisses it; when his new girlfriend goes to confront her, she’s not home.

    What’s it all about? Do you really buy that hackneyed ending — I don’t — that flashes back to a time when they were both smiling with their eyes closed, mid-blink? On the up-side, at least Diaz is smooth reading.

  2. jerry says:

    Well I loved Yunior in “The Pura Principle” and I still like him a lot here though at times I need a Spanish dictionary.

    Maybe it’s because i used to watch The Day After and have read Alas Babylon but I seriously dig this homeboy and also Diaz’s writing.

  3. Ken says:

    Again, I’m with Aaron here. I read this and “Monstro” within a few days and it seems like the same character and stylistic ticks over and over. And yet…this is “smooth” reading and the eroticism of it worked and there was some pleasure here. But… the tricks of his are getting pretty old as both Trevor and Aaron noted.

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