The title of Junot Diaz’s 2008 Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, is a misnomer. Yes, Oscar’s life is brief, but Diaz peppers the book with extraneous tangents that draw the reader away from his memorable main character. Oscar is an overweight sci-fi-writer-nerd and Diaz peppers the tale with references with unique pop culture references from comic books to Tolkien. However, too much time is spent on the backstories of sister Lola and the attrocities meted out on grandfather Abelard in the Dominican Republic. To me the central relationship was Oscar’s friendship with Lola’s on-again-off-again boyfriend, Yunior. Unfortunatel, the book ultimately feels like a string of novellas that doesn’t quite add up to a satisfying novel.
That being said, Diaz has a complete mastery of language and his mix of Spanish and English creates a vibrant energy to the story. I haven’t read the other two Pulitzer finalists–Dennis Johnson’s Tree of Smoke and Shakespeare’s Kitchen by Lore Segal–so I can’t judge the merits of Oscar Wao against its competitors. While the writing was strong enough to make me want to explore Diaz’s earlier short story collection, Drown, I wish Oscar Wao had ended with its promise fulfilled from the earlier pages of the novel.