The last time I read a novel that started with the main character expressing that he wasn’t a bad guy was for my Jan Term young adult reading & writing class. And that book was from the perspective of a teenage male who was in denial about the fact that he had raped a girl. The exact line went, “I am a good guy.” Upon seeing that this novel started with very similar words, I knew this was going to be an unlikable protagonist. Any character that has to convince the reader so outwardly that they aren’t a bad guy could only be in denial about the truth. In comparison to some of the modern books I’ve read, the writing style didn’t seem that out there. Many novels these days are written in the same conversational, honest way. However, in comparison to what we’ve read so far in this class, the writing style could not have been more different. I found that the writing made the sections that we were assigned to read fly by, and it made the novel easy to get into. That being said, I was also intrigued by the narrator’s intentions.
We discussed his voice a lot in class in regard to who the narrator could be speaking to. Several people in the class said that they thought that he wasn’t speaking to the reader but some other unknown person. I didn’t say that I disagreed in class because I wasn’t exactly sure how to explain why I disagreed. But I’m going to try to do that now. I do feel as though the narrator is addressing the reader because even though this is a reflection of past events written later, it almost felt like he was trying to give the reader a lesson. The lesson being not to do what he did (among other things). On page 5, he says, “Let me tell you…” and on the same page he also says, “Anyway I won’t bore you…” On page 9 he says, “If this were another kind of story, I’d tell you about the sea.” Unless specifically mentioned or implied by the narrator that “you” is someone else, I take it to mean “me,” the reader. On a more personal level, I have a piece of my own that is also a reflection or confession of sorts told in the same first person past tense POV. Every time my character says “you” (in similar ways as Yunior does), he is referencing the reader. While my character is VERY different from Yunior, I see the similarities in what they are trying to achieve. It’s almost like they are saying, “Hey, look. See what I did? Take note. And make of it what you will, but this is the truth about what happened.” And that connection, more than anything else, is what makes me think Yunior is speaking to the reader rather than someone else or to himself.
There was a moment where something Yunior said reminded me a lot of My Antonia.
“She shook her head. I don’t want to be here.
What do you mean?
What don’t you understand? I. Don’t. Want. To. Be. Here.
This was not the Magda I knew. The Magda I knew was super courteous. Knocked on a door before she opened it” (12).
This reminded me of My Antonia because way early on in the semester I remember writing in my commonplace book about how Jim was afraid of how he would find Antonia after twenty years apart. He was afraid of finding her “broken.” I commented about how this showed how Jim had this specific image in his head of how Antonia was and that she shouldn’t change from that or Jim wouldn’t see her int he same way anymore. Yunior too seems to be afraid of a Magda that is any different from the one he’s always known. In his mind, Yunior isn’t allowing Magda to have a voice that isn’t “courteous” or, as I see it, submissive. This was an early sign for me that showed Yunior’s desire for things to remain the same despite the fact that things could obviously not be the same after he cheated. Even though Yunior hugs her and tells her they could do whatever she wanted after, I find that just as bad because he is still just trying to make things be the same instead of being realistic and talking about what the real problem was.
The narrator also made it clear that his brother had an influence on him when they were younger, and it perhaps got in Yunior’s head that he was destined to act the same way no matter what. He believed the stereotyped about Dominicans. A part that emphasized this for me was with the iced tea.
“…he smiled at her and she got real serious and uncomfortable and he told her to fix him some iced tea and she told him to fix it himself. You a guest here, he said. You should be earning your fucking keep. He went into the shower and as soon as he did she was in the kitchen stirring and I told her to leave it, but she said, I might as well. We drank all of it” (33).
This was just one example of Yunior’s brother setting his example, but it struck me because it shows Yunior accepting that Nilda would make the tea, and then he even drinks it. Rafa clearly had the power over his brother and Nilda. Someone mentioned in class that this was like “A Party Down at the Square” because it shows the conditioning of Yunior into being vulgar and cheating. The flashback to when he was younger gives an explanation as to where his mindset originated, and perhaps that is something that Diaz wanted to present to readers. As a Latino writer, he is presenting the conditioning of young men in that culture. It is highly doubtful that they all turn out to be like Rafa or Yunior, but in addressing it, Diaz is making the conditioning a major part of Yunior’s back story. This makes the novel interesting as well as layered.
Because I can’t resist using this new Brandon Flowers song that I’ve had on repeat. It just happens to be a good song for this reading too. It’s got the same desperation that Yunior has in the novel both masked with light tones.
“Spinnin’ like a Gravitron
When I was just a kid
I always thought that things would change
But they never did
I’m hanging on to the end of this rope
Somewhere on the outskirts of hope
Life without you not around
Another kid in Lonely Town”