Junot Díaz: down and dirty

By S.I. ROSENBAUM  |  September 21, 2012

BUT HE’S BEEN THROUGH SO MUCH. I KIND OF WANNA GIVE THE GUY A HUG. I know. I was talking earlier with a friend about how little access most of us have to unsanitized, uncensored male subjectivities. I think part of the reason people want to give Yunior a hug has to do with the fact that so few of us encounter, in literature and film— in any sort of popular artistic medium— real male subjectivities. What passes for male in literature and in films is so laughable to the average guy. I mean, when we get together and I say, “Do any of these depictions come remotely close to mirroring your internality?” my boys just fold over in laughter. I think it makes people uncomfortable. We recognize it but we don’t want to wrestle with the way that masculinity has been organized. We’ll say “Dudes are dogs,” but we don’t want to write a book about that. And we certainly don’t want to read one.

DO YOU THINK THERE’S HAPPINESS FOR YUNIOR? That’s a good question the book asks the reader to answer. I do the same thing with Oscar Wao. I sort of make the book into a game that requires the reader’s participation. And I certainly think the most important, I think the core of the book, is that the book actually asks that question and asks the reader to participate and says “What do you think? What is your judgment?” And really the book puts the reader in judgment of Yunior by the end. Because the book reveals that you have just read Yunior’s book, you have not read Junot Diaz’s book —though clearly it is Junot Diaz’s  in a way— but you know, it is revealed at the end that Yunior has written this book. Now, do you as a reader believe that what he has learned about himself and about women and how it’s reflected about women, does this lead you to believe that this person is going to be better at finding intimacy or does it not?

BUT YOU’VE SAID YUNIOR IS YOUR ALTER-EGO. HOW DO YOU NAVIGATE THE BOUNDARY BETWEEN YOU AND YUNIOR? Well, he’s not me — I mean, I couldn’t write him! I’m so clearly writing in the tradition of literature, this is not memoir or autobiography or personal essay.

WELL, THANK GOD. I mean — listen, most creative writing people see I’m playing inside the form. But to your point: Yunior is a guy who’s so far from me, you know? He’s smarter, he’s better-looking. Way cooler, you know? And he’s tormented in totally different ways than I am. I think I’m far more cautious than he would ever be, I think he’s haunted by many of his crimes and indiscretions, he’s haunted in very particular ways. Yunior never talks about stuff, he just feels it and thinks about it, but I’m the kind of motherfucker who will walk up and be like, “Hey fellas, I fucking blew it. I suck.” Yunior would never say “I suck.”

AND YET HE’S A WRITER TOO.  Yeah, but there’s a million different kinds. I think it was just easier than inventing an entirely new profession for him. But clearly it wasn’t just that, that’s a lie. It’s that nothing is more fitting for a deceptive seducer than to become a fiction writer. I mean, Yunior has lived his life with women behind a mask. And now he gets to practice that in his vocation. It’s sort of perfect.

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