A Brief Life, A Very Long Narrative

Having already read The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, I must admit I was not wholeheartedly looking forward to rereading it again for this class. Reading it the first time left me with the feeling I had spent quite a few many hours (I am an incredibly slow reader) reading a book that was less a 335-page story, and more a 335-page characterization. The second time around, my sense of lose over the time spent was only reinforced. Don’t get me wrong, this is an entirely personal problem. I understand that [over]long characterization serves its purpose, following something along the lines of a “one part representing the whole” standpoint. Oscar is the quintessential fuku cursed young man; both his weight and his inescapable geekiness (nerdiness? dorkiness?) are almost out of his control until some turn of events, such as the appearance of Jenni (what better to inspire change in a young man than a goth girl, eh?), which only leads him to another series of unfortunate feelings and events. Diaz’ characterization of Oscar is overwhelmingly ¬†all-encompassing and complete, but with such a focus on the one character, his feelings, his habits, and his peculiarities, my attention span waned. I’ll be honest, shiny things were about 10 times more distracting while attempting to swallow this book for the second time. Yes, there is a story to TBWLOOW, but it is immensely overshadowed, nay eclipsed, by the presentation of Oscar himself. Sure, a lot of Oscar’s little quirks were amusing (who else would write a space opera?), but only so much so and not to justify an entire novel. I am of the opinion that while a novel most definitely hinges on its’ characters, it should perhaps hinge a little more on plot as well. The events of the novel could probably be summed up in one sizable paragraph, whereas a description of Oscar could take the form of a 50-page thesis. Should the events of the novel not have a little more bearing on the ‘message’ of the text?

Actually, I just had a thought. I was about to say that the title of the novel should have just been “The Brief, Wondrous Oscar Wao,” with a key revision in leaving out the word “life,” as his life seems to be less discussed than his feelings and reaction to it. Then I thought about the idea of a fictional biography and made a few mental concessions for the novel in my head (despite the previous paragraph’s condemnation). I suppose in the formulation of a biography the author mustn’t necessarily rely on the events of the subject’s life, so much as their individual, distinctive, and unique personality that lead to and affected the events of said life. I suppose any number of people could have grown up in Jersey, met a girl, lost a girl, not met another girl for a very long time, went to college, went to teach at their old high school, tried to kill themselves, got beat up by some thugs, and then got killed. I suppose the events of a LIFEstory are only colored by one’s view of them, and in that way biographies hinge specifically on the idea of characterization. And specific to this novel, I’ll admit that had Oscar not been the strange young man he was, I probably wouldn’t even have been able to get past the first hundred pages, much less three hundred.

Perhaps, then, biographies just aren’t my thing.