On Junot Diaz: "Miss Lora"

If you haven't read about Yunior before, you've just had a treat. This smart, sex-crazed, suffering man who narrates "Miss Lora" is one of the primary characters in Junot Díaz's first collection of short stories, Drown. He is also a member of the supporting cast in the novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. And finally, he appears prominently in Díaz's 2012 story collection, This Is How You Lose Her. Both "Miss Lora" and "The Sun, the Moon, the Stars" appear in this latest book. In a New York Times book review, Leah Hager Cohen observes, "Junot Díaz writes in an idiom so electrifying and distinct it’s practically an act of aggression, at once alarming and enthralling, even erotic in its assertion of sudden intimacy." This is fiction in which voice dominates, no doubt. The narration is alternately insightful and helpless, regretful and furious, crude and erudite, and Díaz can switch lightning-fast between these personality traits and somehow make you utterly believe in the solidity, the wholeness, the reality, of Yunior, the narrator.

But voice aside, this story breaks my heart.  Its depictions of loneliness and pain are paired with the characters' compromised efforts to find respite from their loneliness and pain. Yunior and Miss Lora both concern themselves with apocalyptic films because life has "messed [them] up good" and they project their internal destruction into external destruction. Yunior and Miss Lora have many similarities: both are immigrants from the Dominican Republic, both physically muscular, both traumatized by family life, both sleeping with their teachers. The way things repeat in the story (e.g. Miss Lora wears her red dress at one graduation, and then another) is similar to the greater picture of how history repeats itself (like-father-like-son machismo, or more sweepingly, one answerless death like another). And "blood always shows," as Yunior tells his ambitious girlfriend. Miss Lora has enormous eyes, and she sees the pain in young Yunior, and he finds her need for him compelling. Sometimes, our response to being exposed to trauma is to seek it out in representations, such as movies, or books, or photographs in which we are smiling and blinking and keeping on keeping on.