One of those books that I have been getting to for a very long time. Not because of the critical reception but just because of the frequency with which it has been mentioned in the same breath as "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber." Now I appreciate a lot of Hemingway's work but do not count it among my favorite reads. Except for that particular short story. The artistry of the structuring, the leanness and restraint of the prose, the possibilities for interpretation. But Diaz's Oscar, a "ghetto nerd" of Dominican descent, invites comparison with Francis in only one regard - a life lived in cowardice until its final moments.
The stuff of Oscar is a pleasant enough read, occasionally laugh-out-loud hilarious as it navigates the terrain where popular culture collides with nerd culture of the Dungeons and Dragons, comic book, fantasy variety. Oscar is a unique individual, and I may have appreciated the book more if it were just about his struggles with being an overweight, socially awkward perennial virgin. But this book is actually more of his family's history in the Dominican Republic, a topic which takes up a large portion of the middle of the book. I just don't do family saga well, and was additionally disappointed in the book's attention deficit disorder characteristics - the narration that shifts unnecessarily without convincing change of voice, the focus or lack of as it takes up everything within easy reach at a pop culture level. And unlike the bit of Hemingway to which it pays homage in the title, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is over-written. Deliberately so I think but in so self-conscious a manner as to make me laugh at the same time I wished that Diaz had not settled for less here. Entertaining for sure but scratching my head a bit at the accolades received.
This book was the June selection for my online book group, The Wolves, to which I am once again late. More opinions may be found at the virtual homes of these fine people: