"The Pura Principle" by Junot Díaz Originally published in the March 22, 2010 issue of The New Yorker. Click here to read the story in its entirety on The New Yorker webpage.
I still haven’t quite determined whether I liked or didn’t like The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. When I saw that Díaz has another story here in The New Yorker, I was both wary and excited. If I like it, perhaps I’ll remember whether I liked Oscar. If I don’t like it, well, perhaps that will confirm what I have been suspecting: that I’m just not a fan of Díaz.
I wrote the block quote above before reading “The Pura Principle.” I can confirm at least one thing: I’m not a fan of Díaz. What I still cannot confirm: Whether I liked The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. I believe I am a fan of Oscar, but the things I found somewhat annoying there I found super annoying here. On the one hand, Díaz’s writing is unique. However, after Oscar it doesn’t feel as fresh. Here is a typical sample:
Lady still managed to scrounge a couple hours here and there to hang with her new main man, Jehovah. I had my yerba, she had hers. She’d never been big on church before, but as soon as we landed on cancer planet she went so over-the-top Jesucristo that I think she would have nailed herself to a cross if she’d had one handy. That last year she was especially Ave Maria.
As you can see, the language isn’t an impediment in and of itself; it flows nicely. It’s just that the style can become a bit in your face. Aware that that is exactly what Díaz is attempting to do, I have to just say I’m not a fan. But where Oscar was strong — in its unique story where the narration tended to downplay, to great effect, the violence and loneliness throughout — “The Pura Principle” fails.
The story started out well. I actually thought I was going to like it. Our narrator Yunior describes the changes that have occurred in their poor urban New Jersey household since they “landed on cancer planet.” Yunior’s older brother Rafa has leukemia, though he still acts like the cocky inner-city boy that he is. Their father left to be with another woman. Their mother loves Rafa deeply — he was a kind of miracle baby, coming after she thought she’d never have children. When Rafa decides to go get a job at a knitting store, both Yunior and Mama are worried about whether he is too sick — though they also recognize that he has never really worked in his life.
As expected, work at a knitting store doesn’t go well. Besides becoming disgruntled, after only a few weeks Rafa collapses on the floor. Comforting him was Pura, an illegal Dominican immigrant.
To me this is where it fell apart. The story became focused on the relationship between Mama and Pura. Mama is uncharacteristically mean to the girl.
To me the story fizzled to the point in the end where I didn’t care about what was going on anymore but just got kind of annoyed at the narration tricks. I didn’t hate the story, but I became uninterested.