“Years later,” it begins, “you would wonder if it hadn’t been for your brother would you have done it?” Done what? Fallen in love with Miss Lora. “It was 1985,” says the narrator, Yunior. “You were sixteen years old and you were messed up and alone like a motherfucker. You were also convinced… that the world was going to blow itself to pieces.” The prospect of death is everywhere. Yunior’s brother, Rafa, is dying, and is long dead by the time Yunior starts telling the story. The story is ostensibly about Yunior’s sexual education by Miss Lora. She is his neighbour, older than him, a teacher at a local school, and much more experienced. She awakens in him a knowledge of his own sexuality, although, far from pleasing him, this knowledge only leaves him confused and angry. But really, indirectly, the story is about Rafa, and about Yunior’s search for words to fill the space opened up by his absence. Miss Lora is ancillary to this exercise: Yunior knows that Rafa would show only confidence if he were to take up with Miss Lora, and part of Yunior’s retelling involves trying to use Rafa’s language to reanimate his brother’s spirit, to convince himself that he can feel what Rafa would feel in his situation. Ultimately, though, words fail everyone. The relationship turns sour, and the final pages unfold like a slow apocalypse of refusals to speak and of spoken words that lack the power to change things.
From This Is How You Lose Her, Penguin 2012; read it at The New Yorker here