July 21, 2009
Sword of Pulitzer Prize-Winning +1
If you haven’t read The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao yet, you gotta. This is the only book I’ve ever read where I understood all of the allusions. That is because they were allusions to Superman, the D&D Monster Manual, and Darkseid’s Omega effect. And it all opens with a line worthy of a Star Wars-style crawl:
They say it came first from Africa, carried in the screams of the enslaved; that it was the death bane of the Tainos, uttered just as one world perished and another began; that it was a demon drawn into Creation through the nightmare door that was cracked open in the Antilles.
Oh man, just reading that makes me want to go through the whole book again.
Anyway, I mention it because there’s a terrific interview with Junot Díaz up at Guernica. It’s very long and nuanced—and it finally reveals the secret origin of Oscar Wao:
Junot Díaz: That’s a far better story. No, I mean, the details are okay: I was living in Mexico City, I had a group of dudes and young sisters who liked to get together—we liked to go dancing, we liked to go drinking. One night I was out very late, this was like five months, no, maybe like four months into my trip. It was very late, and we were over at a friend’s house; the guy’s house who I was at turned out to—in the future—turned out to be a very famous Mexican actor. But that night we were just all hanging out and it was a bunch of Mexican bohemians and me and my Guatemalan buddy. And one of these Mexican cats just pulled a book off a shelf and just cornered me and was like, “My favorite writer in the world.” He was telling me, “My favorite writer in the world is Oscar Wao, I love Oscar Wao, Oscar Wao is brilliant.” And I was dying because I knew he meant Oscar Wilde. That’s where the book began. After that party I went home and I laid in bed, and I suddenly had this idea of this fore-cursed family. This idea of this awkward fat boy and this idea that this family would be cursed in love, that they would have great trouble finding love. You know it just felt like a real good kind of novella, telenovela type plot. I just thought, “Hey, I can work with this, you know, I can really change this into something else.”
I love chains of ideas—whole works—that start like that, sparked by a single phrase, or best of all, a name. I’ve got a couple.