Last month I went to Book Expo America, the big bookselling trade show in NYC. It was the first time I’d been at BEA in a dozen years.
Last time I was there, there was this funky new thing called the Rocker ebook reader, the size of a trade paperback with a big heavy battery and a black-on-gray screen that completely failed to excite anyone at the conference but me. I’m not sure Amazon even had a booth that year.
Fast forward to this year and everyone was walking the floor, smartphones in hand, skirting the vast Amazon presence right in the center of the floor. Added to that the publishers — most of whom didn’t even have email addresses last time — sent out a free ebook containing samples of the most “buzz-worthy” books featured at the convention. I got a copy for my Kindle (sorry, RocketBook. You never made it, but you helped blaze the trail, if its any consolation).
In the BEA Buzz ebook I found a short story called “The Sun, The Moon, The Stars”, by the very buzz-worthy Junot Diaz. It was the first of his stories that I have read and it wont be the last. It’s from a collection called This Is HowYou Lose Hercoming out this year from Riverside Books.
The story takes us inside the head of a young Dominican guy with girl problems. Written in the first person and in the distinctive patois of the young idiot male everywhere, the story is a skillful demonstration of how to tell more than just one person’s story through one person’s voice.
Even though the narrator is clearly the “sucio” his girlfriend suspects he is, Diaz manages to show us, through his character’s voice, that he has the potential to be much more. Without whining, he shows how his struggle to be a good macho young man complicates his attempts to be a good man.
And when Diaz allows his character to go “home” to the Dominican Republic with the girl he’s trying to keep, we see the a very different young man, a natural poet and family guy.
The whole story is a subtle reflection on the difficulty of growing up, fitting in, finding your way, with one foot in two different communities, and in many cultures. But it’s all done with a light hand and extraordinary eloquence.
Look for “This Is How You Lose Her” by Junot Diaz from Riverhead Books in September.