With my New Yorker subscription on sabbatical, I was bold enough to check out three books during my last visit to the library. My palms were sweaty, but I did manage to read all three books in three weeks, something I probably haven't done since college (when it was more like three books in one week -- how did I ever graduate?).
Of these three books, I saved The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz for last. I had heard great things, but was not sure of the first few pages. I pressed on, and low and behold, it's the best book I've read in a year. I highly recommend it if you like classic American tragedies in the line of Faulkner and Fitzgerald, but want to read something newer and rougher around the edges. If Faulkner is Southern Gothic, Diaz is Caribbean Gothic.
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao tells the story of the Leon family, tracing it's cursed history back three generations from Paterson, New Jersey to the Dominican Republic. Diaz includes copious footnotes that explain his references to Dominican history and culture, since he doesn't expect his readers to know much about Trujillo and what went on behind the Plantain Curtain. For instance, he tells us we shouldn't feel bad that we don't know about the two American occupations of the D.R., since our kids won't know we occupied Iraq. Oh snap! The history major in me really lapped that one up.
It was a compelling read. In the end, I was satisfied in knowing the complete story of the Leons, but sad to let them go. These characters stay with me much in the way that I carry around the Compsons, Sutpens, and Bundrens. Diaz weaves a fabulous tale of obsession, betrayal, escape, and ultimately, murder, all the while managing to keep his characters' profoundly identifiable human vulnerability in the forefront. Oscar Leon's unhappy ending will cause you to be thankful for your luck in having a modicum of good sense in this beautiful and cruel world.