I've been meaning to read The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao for over a year. My book club, Mocha Girls Read, selected it to read for the month of June, providing the necessary motivation for me to finally pick it up. My fellow Mocha girls had mixed feelings about this book, as do I.
The description on the back of my copy describes Oscar of the title as a "sweet but disastrously overweight ghetto nerd, a New Jersey romantic who dreams of becoming the Dominican J.R.R. Tolkien and, most of all, of finding love." Unfortunately Oscar never quite how to exist in the world. Blame it on the fuku, the curse that has followed his family for multiple generations. Or, blame it on his crazy mother. Or, blame it on his tendency to wallow in self-pity and his inability to get out of his head.
I found this book incredibly frustrating. On the plus side I liked that it was about a Dominican family. I haven't read many, or any really, books by or about Dominicans or the Dominican Republic. It was a new perspective for me, one that I found refreshing. I also really liked the character of Lola, Oscar's sister. She grew up in the same crazy, unloving household as Oscar and yet she turned out so differently. Both Lola and Oscar were smart; both went to college. In the end Oscar seemed stunted, like he stopped growing mentally and emotionally at age 12. Lola on the other hand, not only survives her childhood, she thrives. She travels the world. She has adventures. I would have rather read the wondrous life of Lola Wao.
The down side of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao was Oscar. I am not sure if the character is meant to be seen as mentally ill but I kept hoping that someone would take him to a therapist. His obsession with women a little creepy. At times his behavior came a bit too close to stalking for comfort. Perhaps Oscar would have been a more sympathetic character if the story were told from his point of view rather than a third person narrator. (Not to say I didn't have some sympathy for him.) Coming from a third party, it was never quite clear why Oscar acted the way he did or how he felt. It might have helped to have been in his head. Then again that might have been an equally frustrating place to be in.