Monday, August 22, 2011

Drown by Junot Diaz

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read this kind of thing best when I've got a good and intelligent friend to talk it over with. I'm not the kind of person who unpacks the layers of modern literature very well on my own. I need the interaction because the act of communication forces me to grasp concepts more firmly than merely thinking about them does. DROWN is a series of short stories, most of which center around a greater story arc of one family's emigration from the Dominican Republic to New York City. Most of the stories are thick on atmosphere and tone and thin on plot action (let that be a warning to all plot junkies, though it isn't meant as an insult to Junot). I'll admit that the last story held my attention best, just because it had the strongest narrative, and if you're not sure about the hardcore literary style of the book, I recommend reading that last story first to get grounded. There is a lot of swearing and some gore and sex and drugs, so avoid if you don't like reading about that kind of thing. His story, "Aurora", captured the nauseating netherworld existence of a drug addict so effectively that I felt a little dizzy after I read it.

Like many of the authors I review, Junot Diaz is one I have met - these days that's because I've met a lot of authors, not because I go out of my way to read stuff by people I've met. He was in Santa Fe for an event at the Lensic Theater, an interview by Samuel R. Delany. Alas, I could not make it to that show, as I was very pregnant and very sleep deprived, but I did make it to dinner with him and Delany beforehand. My writer's group, many of whom knew Delany, set that meal up, and there were about eight of us around the table. Those more published than I shared stories about their adventures in the business. Mr. Diaz was very personable, introducing himself as "Junot" and genuinely interested in meeting our motley crew of writers and aspirings who knew Delany well enough to call him "Chip" rather than Samuel. Seated at our table, he could have been anyone, and he didn't conform to the industry norm of looking down his nose at us science fiction hacks. A lot of fantastic work is done by total jerks and many wonderful people write utter drivel. Junot Diaz is a pleasant exception to both. If you are a fan of his, I'd encourage you to reach out to him - in a sane, non stalkerish way please.

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