I’m a big fan of short story collections. It’s a great way to enjoy a tale with only a little time to spare. My favourite collections are ones where every story is written by the same author. While each part is different there is a tone that stretches throughout the book. The author’s written voice if you will. It’s a great way to understand the writer in a way that a full novel doesn’t quite do. Each of the stories in “This is How you lose her” is about love. Actually that’s not quite right. Many of them are about infatuation disguised as love and in many ways that can be all the more relevant for the modern audience. There are tales of betrayal, families and the ties that bind them, misguided entanglements and in many cases, accepting fate and moving on. What’s interesting is that all of them focus on characters from the Dominican Republic. It’s a culture that I know very little about and so it was a step into a new world for me. The characters act in different ways than I would making it a very different kind of empathy for those I’m reading about. I may have been through similar situations but I have dealt with them the way that seems right to me.
Some of the stories in this book fell by the wayside for me. They were good, but in comparison to the three I’ll talk about here, they just didn’t stand up.
Flaca – this is probably the shortest of the stories in the collection. It tells of a misguided relationship that somehow lasted for two years. It is the only serious relationship described in the collection where a white woman is involved which makes it stand out. The main character “Yunior” who appears throughout most of these stories is actually horrible to Flaca about her race. He wont let her speak Spanish because it sounds awful and he refers to her as white trash. Even the name Flaca is a way of possessing her in a strangely derogatory way. Flaca is a term that Latin men use to describe a very skinny girl and will shout it at them as they go by. Yunior gives her this name instead of her real name “Veronica”. It’s almost like he’s trying to Latinise her while at the same time mocking her lack of Latin attributes. It’s a strange relationship. It feels like they are both trying at times to make it work because they have nothing else in their lives at that time. Yet both of them know that it’s wrong and when it ends Yunior isn’t left heartbroken and feeling foolish like he does in many of the other stories. He accepts it.
Otravida, Otravez – This story stands out because it is the only story in the collection told from the point of view of a woman. It’s a nice break from the brash male ego that permeates this collection. It tells us of a Dominican woman living in America. She is the mistress to a man whos family lives in the Dominican Republic and haven’t seen him in many years. The main Character Yasmin longs for stability. She wants to be safe and secure with her lover Tavito. But Tavitos wife keeps sending letters from Home and it is a constant reminder that Yasmin will always be the mistress and never the spouse. It’s quite a sad story because Yasmin is a genuinely likable character, one of the only ones in the story. You want her to be happy but you, and she, leave things slightly convinced that it’s never going to happen.
The Cheaters Guide to Love – This is the final tale in the collection. Yunior’s Fiancé finds out that over the course of 6 years he has cheated on her with over 50 women. How does she find out? Because he has kept email records of the whole thing. Throughout most of this collection and especially at the start of this story I didn’t like Yunior. I still don’t but strangely I feel sorry for him. That’s what this story does. It takes a fairly despicable person and punishes him to the extreme. Only once he loses her does Yunior realise just how much his fiancé meant to him. Over the next few years he comes closer and closer to being able to move on. Every time, something happens to smack him back down into depression. What starts of as satisfactory for the reader becomes woefully depressing and although you may not like him, you want him to get back on his feet. It’s very powerful writing and left me questioning a lot about my own life and relationships.
This is a fantastic collection of short stories. The characters aren’t always likable but you can’t help but be moved by the tales themselves. Even if you’ve never cheated or been cheated on, Even if you’ve never been lied to by a lover, even if you’ve never pined after someone you’ll never have, this book will strike a chord. The written voice that carries through is so relatable that you can’t help but empathise in a small way. If you’ve read this then I’d recommend “The brief wondrous life of Oscar Wao” by the same author. If you haven’t but have enjoyed short stories by Raymond Carver, Breece DJ Pancake or Mary Gaitskill then this is for you.