Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Blame it on the footnotes

Maybe it was the hype.
I wanted to love “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” by Junot Diaz (ISBN 978-1-59448-958-7). After all, it was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2008. I’d read lots of glowing reviews. And a colleague told me it was the best book she’d ever read, prompting her to begin re-reading it as soon as she’d finished.
So it’s possible nothing could have measured up.
But I’m blaming the footnotes.
Diaz is a gifted storyteller, crafting fleshed-out characters that captivate. And then, just when I’m enthralled with the story of Oscar. Stop. A footnote detailing the history of the Dominican Republic. Just as I’m immersed in the travails of his sister Lola. Stop. A footnote explaining the atrocities of Trujillo. Just when I’m moved almost to tears by Diaz’ incredibly powerful usage of the understatement. Stop. A footnote on ... I don’t know what because I stopped reading them.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the book. I appreciate the skill it takes to so seamlessly move from character to character and era to era without jarring the reader. I just wanted to get lost in this fascinating story, not be constantly interrupted.

- Tricia Ambrose

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Blogger Asian Sensation said...

The footnotes killed the flow of the story, but I can understand what he was trying to do. It's similar to how some versions of Lolita have footnotes. Great, but ultimately like a spoiler, it takes the visceral feel out of reading the book straight through without the academic white noise.

An interesting fact, Tricia: I knew some friends who were in Vietnam. I also knew a Marine who was in the Dominican Republic in April '65. And while the 'fuju' may be fact or fiction or a clever plot device, it's not a stretch to say that some of those Marines that went from Santo Domingo occupation to Saigon in '65-66 took a little bit of 'fuju' with them, causing the cluster-foxtrot that was the Vietnam War.

After '66, the war in Vietnam started to snowball and the public became antsy. Tet in Jan '68--that was the avalanche on the mountain. Kent State shooting in '70? Ballgame. Let's get our boys back home, which we did in '72-73. But there's still some 'fuju' about the war even today.

I got the sense of anger in Diaz, but that's who he is. Sometimes, as a writer, you just have to be yourself. Had Diaz edited it and cut some swear words out, a minor example, it wouldn't have read as would've gotten the idea he was trying to make it marketable at the expense of artistry.

take care,
the Asian Sensation.

January 14, 2009 at 11:55 AM 

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