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Junot Díaz: “The Cheaters Guide to Love”

Click here to read the abstract of the story on The New Yorker webpage (this week’s story is available only for subscribers).  Junot Díaz’s “The Cheaters Guide to Love” was originally published in the July 23, 2012 issue of The New Yorker.

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More Junot Díaz inThe New Yorker?  That’s three so far this year, and in such close proximity.  It’s been a bit crazy around here, but I’m getting on me feet again, and I will have this post up soon together with some other reviews of books.

25 thoughts on “Junot Díaz: “The Cheaters Guide to Love””

  1. Jon says:

    I started this story expecting to be introduced to some Chica who was described in a way that I could only understand if I found a “Dictionary of Contemporary Spanish Slang”–and I wasn’t disappointed! On reflection, I guess that’s fair, since European writers might use French or Latin expressions I don’t know.

    But I’m just not getting a lot of unique, substantive insight behind the rhetorical fireworks and gritty, vital, street-wise prose (as I imagine the New Yorker editors might see it.) I feel like I’m reading a snarky blog post from some men’s site (“share your war stories on getting dumped”).

    And “I’m not that kind of Negro”??? Am I the only one to read this as suggesting the New Yorker editors’ tolerance for authentic, street-wise prose only goes so far?

  2. Joe says:

    Junot Diaz?! Again?!

    Every time I see that man’s name in the New Yorker I immediately feel my blood pressure spike and I lose control of my bowels.

    Okay, I wasn’t predisposed to like this story.

    I agree with Jon, the tone is just so snarky that it’s hard to feel any connection with any of the characters. As usual, I feel that Diaz is trying to have it both ways: he wants to write about dudes who say “Bro, he so doesn’t look like you,” but then on the same page we have “preternaturally sapient” and “phlegmatic.” This makes the whole thing seem more like a show-offy stunt rather than a thoughtful piece of fiction.

  3. Trevor says:

    I couldn’t bring myself to read this yet, but Jon and Joe, you don’t make me any more excited.

  4. Lee Monks says:

    Maybe it helps my having a certain amount of distance from the general animus surrounding Diaz and the cultural context etc: I love the voice. Snarky prose is a high-wire act and a big ask: get it wrong and it quickly palls (as it has with Joe and Jon) but I think Diaz stays on the right side of sharp-witted ingratiation as opposed to glib rebarbatives.

  5. Trevor says:

    Lee, I always appreciate your defense of Díaz, but have you had the chance to read these latest pieces? If not, I wonder if you’d think he’s still getting it right.

    I’m tired of it, and it seems the publication of so many in such a small amount of time is a big disservice to Díaz as well (though I’m sure the extra money is always nice).

  6. Lee Monks says:

    Don’t get me wrong: he’s been waaaaay over exposed in the New Yorker of late, and new writers could’ve had the benefit of the spot, no argument. I have read them, and they’re going to convert no-one already dubious. I just wanted to stick up for the guy, he gets a sound tonking every time he’s on here (every fortnight). They need to leave Diaz out of there for a good while, bizarre he’s had such a run.

  7. Kathryn says:

    Honestly, I am so sick of the same old mysoginist attitudes being visited again and again in Diaz’s work. I know that he’s using his characters’ very negative attitudes towards women to make a statement but he never really develops his stories enough to give a point to it all. By the third story in a few months with the same voice and very similar charcters, whatever point he was trying to make is so beleaguered as to no longer be sufficient justification for the negativity.

    The women in his stories are portrayed almost universally as oblivious, vain, schemers, who deserve nothing better than to be used by men and referred to, not by name, but by the quality of their ‘pussies’. The women who don’t fit these molds are really just used as foils to point out how troubled his male protagonist is, like Arlenny in this week’s story.

    I get it, he’s tryng to be streetwise and to scandalize us all, but really I think it’s just lazy and uninspired story telling. Sort of like the shock comedian who tries to draw laughs by swearing or being racist because he is just too stupid to be funny in any other way.

    If the New Yorker has to keep publishing Diaz, I hope they’ll have him come up with a new idea…maybe something really earth shatteringly different like a story with a woman character who is something other than a conquest or a foil for a male character! We can be fully develped characters too dontchaknow!

  8. Lee Monks says:

    Blimey. Diaz gets his ritual drubbing! I’m starting to think the indignant demolition of Diaz on this blog outstrips the man’s attempts at comedy! Put him in there a fourth time, New Yorker! The response is witheringly funny and I don’t mean that in any way sarcastically.

  9. Criticus says:

    Interesting comments. I’m not always a fan of Díaz (I thought Oscar Wao was a train wreck), but I think this story works because the main character’s guilt humanizes him. How much contemporary fiction do we rule out if we insist on textbook English and political correctness?

  10. Joe says:

    Criticus, I think the objections to Diaz’s writing are not about textbook English or political correctness. I’m guessing that everyone on this blog would agree that a writer can write in any style, with any choice of vocabulary, and about any topic as long as he or she has something interesting to say and is able to present his or her ideas in a compelling way. In my opinion Diaz fails on both those counts. We’ve heard the story many times before and, at least for me, the story is not told in a way that makes me want to keep reading.

  11. Ken says:

    I second all negative opions above and yet, like Lee, I also find them sort of entertaining. Is that having it both ways?

  12. Ken says:

    One more thing-this feels like an outline of a longer piece, not a finished story.

  13. Rex says:

    I agree with most of these comments, but the story seemed a little too familiar and “un-Diaz” to me. A quick search brought a story from 2010 called “The Places You Find Yourself,” by Jerome Edwards, from a literary mag called Epiphany. Almost note for note, it seems. The mag’s not completely online but here’s a story link:

    http://jeromejedwards.squarespace.com/storage/Edwards-Places-2.pdf

    Am I crazy? What do you think?

  14. Carlos says:

    I find the whiney reax to Diaz comical.

    Although, the recent run in the NYer IS a bit odd. Though not unprecedented. I remember alotta Milosz poems too. (shrug)

    I for one find him funny, the subject matter looked at in a way formerly completely alien to me.

    I recollect a colleague of mine years ago telling me a story about his cheating father… I found it bizarre and fasinating.

  15. Trevor says:

    I’m curious for more robust defense of Diaz other than that those of us who don’t like him are funny — oh, and that Diaz is funny. At least there’s a lot of humor here, and I’m sad I am missing out on all of it.

  16. Lee Monks says:

    I think he’s a great stylist not at pains to make the voice of his characters likable for the sake of it. I do find the voice funny and cleverly employed. I can see why it might rankle or split an audience, but that’s never a criticism of anything: some things are only ever going to work for a minority.

  17. Trevor says:

    I agree that he is a great stylist, so I think I need to better understand and articulate my distaste (much of which may be unfair as it could be directed at The New Yorker for publishing seemingly anything he writes, even a sketch for some potential piece on the end of the world).

    I’m not a fan of the voice, but there’s no doubt that when I begin one of Diaz’s stories, it goes down easily. It is fluid and clever, and it doesn’t bother me much (though I’ve never seen the point) that his narrators speak this street slang but throw in words everyone has to look up in the dictionary. And I agree that if this doesn’t suit one reader, that is not a criticism.

    I do think that as unique as his voice is, the repetition, only emphasized when The New Yorker publishes so many of his stories in a short span of time, does make it fall apart for me. It reminds me of another book that I enjoyed quite a bit, Steve Toltz’s A Fraction of the Whole. I laughed out loud many times, even though I recognized that every character who was given any speaking time sounded exactly the same as all of the other characters. I liked that book, but it’s not a great book, and I wonder if Toltz, when he gets to it, will write the same voice in his next book.

    But I think my problem is more than the repetition. I think Philip Roth’s diatribes are all similar in voice and style, and I don’t care how many times Woody Allen puts Alvy Singer in a movie — I’ll read the Roth and watch the Allen. From my perspective, Diaz suffers from the failure to bring the voice to anything deeper. In other words, I always get the sense I’m sitting in my basement listening to Yunior tell stories, even when the narrator isn’t Yunior. I don’t see where any of it leads to something.

    I guess what I’m hoping is that someone can help me see where Diaz is more than a stylist, where his style serves a purpose other than style.

  18. Rex says:

    I think we have to put analysis of style and intent aside until we understand how Diaz is operating. The odds seem pretty slim (to me) that Diaz just happened to replicate so many elements of the story mentioned above (“The Places You Find Yourself,” by Jerome Edwards). It’s not a plagiarism, of course, but the similarities in rhythm, form and character offer the same kind of narrative propulsion (2nd person aside) and

    It’s as if Diaz is singing his own words over someone else’s song. The inevitable outcome is an absence of depth and a feeling that the story is incomplete.

  19. Trevor says:

    I’m afraid I still haven’t read the story you linked to above, Rex, but I intend to.

  20. ernesto daza says:

    Is it obvious to anyone else that Diaz can’t write anything that doesn’t pertain to his own life? This Yunior character is obviously him–the similarities are too striking. So is this memoir or fiction? Is Diaz searching for personal catharsis? And why does it matter? There is a great deal of misogyny–white girls never come off well in his stories, has anyone ever noticed?– and the narrator is always pointing out his own attributes in a sly way, whether it’s the amount of women he slays or his physicality. But you got to give it to him: the voice is entertaining and mostly consistent (words like “phlegmatic” and “sapient” should have been edited out). I do think this is one of his best efforts in years. His novel was almost abysmal (it still puzzles me that he won so many awards, but that’s the way of the literary world) but the first collection of stories had some killer pieces. You can’t take that away from him. But I think he’s come up against a limit–whether of his talents, or his subject matter, I’m not quite sure. I think Diaz can excel at the short story again if he manages to exercise more of his imagination and write something outside of himself (the end of the world story he recently conjured struck me as a dry run that should have been aborted). In other words, Diaz needs to show some cojones and flex whatever narrative muscles might be in his possession; I want to see him become more ambitious as opposed to rehashing the same stories. I feel as if he hasn’t made that leap into greatness, or even made the attempt, and it makes me wonder just how many tricks this writer has left. For too many years, he’s been pretty one-note. I’m sick to death of this Yunior character, who is not very complex, and the voice is so overly familiar by now that whenever this character is featured I have to stifle a big yawn before I proceed with the story. When you’re done reading his latest work, instead of expecting to get slammed by the gale-force of prose, which should leave you bruised and shaken, all you get is a warm breeze that comes and goes–pleasant as it washes over you, forgotten once it passes on. But that may be requiring too much from this writer. I did notice a few errors, most blatantly “constantine wire.” It’s concertina wire, New Yorker. Let’s get it together.

  21. Jon says:

    If you find that to be the case (and I agree), and you also find the voice overly familiar by now (also agree with you on that), then what about the story do still find compelling?

  22. Jon says:

    [My experiment with HTML tags was a failure.]

    Quotes in my last post should go around the following:

    ” I’m sick to death of this Yunior character, who is not very complex…”

  23. ernesto daza says:

    The story is not all compelling, but the voice is entertaining–at least Diaz doesn’t bore. Though if I had to read these stories back to back in a collection, as opposed to months apart in a magazine, my eyes would glaze over. Anyway, I’m not interested in slamming his work. Writing is damn hard, and no one could be William Faulkner except William Faulkner.

  24. Jon from NYC says:

    I thought the story was compelling. The reflections of a guy who knows he’s wasting his life and living wrong. A fairly old theme but not uninteresting. His misogynism is certainly ugly – but since when are a protagonists ugly character traits the sign of bad fiction?

  25. Martynas says:

    I simply loved it.

    I often find myself unable to read beyond the second page of Yorker’s fiction, too snobbish (although I am almost French) and often way too pretentious (though I usually like that too) .. and this went sweet and entertaining.

    And I did not find the message lacking originality. I rather see the story about the guy who screwed up once big time and had bad luck ever since, though he does not have energy to change that luck.

    Uh… American Dream

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