‘The Cheater’s Guide to Love’ by Junot Diaz

I am usually not very interested in stories about writers are having trouble writing, guys from working class backgrounds who feel like outsiders in academia, or men who moan about having lost the woman in their life by behaving badly. Diaz’s story is all three of these things. Yunior – a character very much like Diaz whose life Diaz has tracked in other stories – has lost his long-time girlfriend when she discovers the breadth of his disloyalty. “She could have caught you with one sucia, she could have caught you with two, but because you’re a totally batshit cuero who never empties his e-mail trash can, she caught you with fifty!” His back is damaged from carrying heavy pool tables when he worked in a delivery service before he became a writer. Middle-aged and alone, he can’t see how he can find a relationship again. Why is that Yunior wins me over in this story? Is it that he has some sense of proportion and recognises that his problems, when compared to those of his friend Elvis, an Iraq war veteran, aren’t the worst? Is it that he’s not really all that precious about his misery? I sit the way he describes his “exile” in the racist and provincial city of Boston? “White people pull up alongside you at traffic lights and scream at you with a hideous rage, like you nearly ran over their mother,” Yunior explains. When he looks like he might find himself through, with grace and humour but no happy endings, I’m rooting for him.

From This is How You Lose Her (Riverhead Books), first published in The New  July 23, 2012 and available online here

‘Invierno’ by Junot Diaz

From Diaz’s second collection, This Is How You Lose Her – unsurprisingly, men in foundering or vanishing relationships feature heavily – ‘Invierno’ is a child’s-eye story. It recounts the arrival of the collection’s central character, Yunior, in the United States from the Dominican Republic. Yunior’s father has been living alone in America for the past five years, and the meat of the story is the family’s attempts to reconnect with one another. But the most affecting image is of Yunior and his older brother, Rafa, sequestered in their claustrophobic apartment, their father too protective to allow them outside to explore their new home.

(This Is How You Lose Her, 2012, published by Faber)