Spitzit’s House

Where serious topics come to relax

The Brief Wondrous Life Of Oscar Wao – Book Review

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Did you ever go see a movie that after reading all the rave reviews and hearing all the hype…and then walked out of the movie feeling really let down and thinking ‘this was not nearly as great’ as you were expecting or wanting it to be?   Well, that is what this book pretty much did for me…A really big let down.

The 2008 Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction, that also managed to rake in a plethora of other literary awards and too many other accolades to even count, The Brief Wondrous Life Of Oscar Wao chronicles…well, I can’t really say what the hell it chronicles, but I can tell you its not Oscar.   I guess you could say it chronicles the various family members of the de Leon family…and how the dark cloud of the “fuku” curse has followed and affected each of them ever since  Grandpa de Leon managed to piss off the evil Dominican Dictator Trujillo back in the 40’s.

Call me picky, but I generally enjoy a book that is compelling, intelligent, and that flows fast but smooth and keeps me turning each page with anticipation.   That was not this book…in fact, I found it frustrating, irritating, and it didn’t flow well for me at all.   First, if you don’t speak Spanish, you are going to miss a lot of what is being said because much of the dialogue from the characters is in Spanish (with no translation) and it switches from English and back again without warning and with no apparent reason, and left me feeling alienated and wondering what the Fuku they are talking about.

Second, the book has many footnotes to explain certain parts of Dominican history, or comic book references and “what not”, as if these asides are somehow critical to the story.  Some of the footnotes are quite lengthy and quite frankly unimportant in my opinion.  I have never read a fiction book that had foot notes, and quite honestly, there is a time and place for foot notes such as college thesis papers, etc…not fiction, but then again Diaz is an MIT professor, so I guess that would explain that.

Third, about half the time I can’t tell who is narrating the book, who is speaking, when they are speaking, or if they are speaking at all.    Call me an idiot, but good use of punctuation, quotation marks, etc. helps stupid people like me know when people are speaking in a book.   And another thing, the book is riddled with F bombs and N words used in the same sentence as big fat obscure intellectual words that normal people just don’t use.  The profanity does not bother me and neither do big “smart” words, but in this book it does not read naturally and feels forced, as if intentional and calculated to prove “street cred” and “superior intelligence” at the same time.  It just comes off pretentious to me.

If you are planning on reading this book and are of average to slightly above-average intelligence and do not speak Spanish, then you will need a dictionary, and translator as well (a computer opened to Google translator and dictionary.com will work as well).   You need to expect the book to flow something like this…

  • Read for a minute or two, then stop to translate a Spanish sentence
  • Read for a minute or two,then stop to look up an obscure word in the dictionary
  • Read for a minute or two, then stop to read a foot note
  • Repeat bullets one through three over and over again

On a positive note, there is a good story buried in this mess and I managed to translate some decent cultural imagery from it.  I know more about the Dominican Republic than I ever thought I would need to know, and I found Oscar to be a fascinating character.  In fact they are all pretty good characters and I found Lola’s and Beli’s stories to be the most interesting.  Oscar, though is the real and unexpected hero, and in my opinion he is the one who faces his destiny and falls on the Fuku sword like a true but tragic comic book hero.  He literally takes the Fuku “bullet” in the name of love and to restore all that should be right in the world…

“One ring to rule them all, One ring to find them. One ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.”

This was not the worst book I ever read, just the most frustrating book I ever read.   After reading so many rave reviews, I can’t help but feel like the only guy that didn’t think this book was the greatest book of the year.  I definitely don’t think it was Pulitzer material, and am truly glad that I purchased it at Half Price Books.   I set my expectations too high and I was let down.  No big deal and no regrets.  I’m glad I read the book, and I will watch the movie, if they decide to make one (which will hopefully have subtitles), but I won’t be recommending this one, or placing it on my list of fave books.   I do congratulate Junot Diaz regardless of my own opinion.  Dude, you evidently did something right, because you really got the literary world drinking the Dominican Diaz Kool-Aid.

That’s my Opinion…and I am sticking with it all the way to the cane fields.

April 19, 2009 Posted by | Book Reviews | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Story Review – The Mouse and the Snake ; a fable by Zane

This is a short story I read recently…so short in fact, that I have placed the entire story in this post. It reminded me very much of the “scorpion and the frog” fable, except that this one was written by an 8 year old boy that has never heard of the “scorpion and the frog”. This is his very own original story…

The Mouse and the Snake ©

Once there was a little mouse who liked to play, and one day he met a snake.
“Hello,” said the snake.
“Hello,” replied the mouse.
“Do you want to play?” asked the snake.
“I’m not sure” answered the mouse. “My family said that snakes eat mice.”
“Nope. Us snakes are really friendly.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes.”
“OK then” said the mouse.
And the mouse never came home.

So, what we have here is a new and original fable written unknowingly by an 8 year old genius. The snake, of course, has a long history represented in many different ways in many cultures. There is the snake of Genesis and Revelations; the snake you should not tread on in American history, and many others. In this fable, the snake could represent the same kind of cunning, and deceitful creature seen in the Bible. However, this fable isn’t really that complicated.

This really just represents the simple nature of things. Snakes can’t have friends, even if they want to. It is the natural order of things for them to eat just about any animal they can fit in their mouth. Also, mice may be frugal, industrious, and good at reproducing..but they are still scampering around the bottom of the old food chain of life. Moral of the story, “if you knowingly play with snakes, you are going to end up dead.”

Of course, my son,…I did mention the author was my son, didn’t I? I think he was just going for the shock factor of a tricky snake gobbling down a cute little rodent, and did so without actually saying it. The ending of his story is simply implied, which is Geniuuuus!

This is just my honest unbiased opinion, and I am sticking with it…until snakes and mice start getting married and having tea-parties together.

October 11, 2008 Posted by | Book Reviews, Everything Else | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Book Review – Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman

Published in 2005, Anansi Boys spins a web (pun definitely intended) about a shy Londoner, Fat Charlie, whose father dies and he later finds out his old man was actually a god, and that he has a long lost brother that evidently inherited all the cool genetic god powers from their old man.

I had never read a Neil Gaiman book prior to this one, and he has definitely gained a new fan in me. Actually, I take that back…when I was reading the synopsis of this book, it obviously struck my interest, so as is my normal procedure, I wanted to know what else he had written. That is when I noticed The Sandman graphic novel series and Stardust. I was a pretty big fan of the Sandman back in the late 80s early 90s. I never was much of one for comic books or graphic novels, except for this one; and to this day it is the only one I have ever read and enjoyed. I did not read the Stardust novel, but I did see the movie with my kids which starred Claire Danes, Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer,  and absolutely loved it…I will read the book as well, I promise.

Anyway, with Anansi Boys I figured I was on to something good, so….

Fat Charlie, he is the main character of this story. He’s quiet, painfully shy, everything embarrasses him, and he is not fat…anymore. I like this guy because he reminds me of me when I was a kid.  Fat Charlie was born in the States, Florida to be exact, then he moved to London as a child with his mother when she left his father. All of the memories of dad are pretty much the things that life-long scars are made of. Not that his father was abusive or anything, but evidently he was quite the jokester and took great pleasure in the embarrassment and humiliation of others…including Fat Charlie. For starters, his dad is the one that nicknamed him “Fat Charlie”, and when his dad nicknamed something, it stuck…forever.

Fat Charlie is engaged to Rosie, who doesn’t put out until after marriage…or so she says. Additionally, Rosie wants to invite Fat Charlie’s father to the wedding much to his chagrin. Perfectly content in his miserable little existence, Fat Charlie receives word from the States that his father has died. After attending the funeral in Florida, Fat Charlie learns from one of the old neighbors that his father was in fact a god, Anansi the trickster spider god to be exact…oh, and that he has a brother as well. Of course, being the realist that he is, Fat Charlie is little overwhelmed by all of this crazy talk of gods and brothers and him being the stupid child.

But it doesn’t take long for him to summon up his brother, Spider, and sure enough he is the charismatic, good looking, and charming King of Cool! After just one night of fun and mourning for their father, Spider is messing up Fat Charlie’s job, horn-dogging on his once abstinent fiancee, and basically tipping over the boat that was once Fat Charlie’s miserable but predictably comfortable little life. So Fat Charlie turns to the group of “island lady” neighbors back in Florida to help him get rid of Spider. What he gets is a ticket to the end of the world..or the beginning of the word depending on who you ask. There he encounters many of the other gods, but gets little help from them, because apparently his old man has played a few too many tricks over the years and managed to piss off the whole god neighborhood.

One thing leads to another, and Fat Charlie unintentionally brings the wrath of his father’s old enemy down on his brother and himself, finds out his his boss is a villainous crook, and that he is not such a puss after all. Funny how stressful times will drive a person to do things they never thought possible of themselves and change their life forever.

Neil Gaiman is truly a wonderful story-teller with a great but twisted sense of humor which is what I loved most about the book. Gaiman also seems to have a real talent for taking brutal violence and making it funny. No matter how gruesome the death, the character never really dies to the reader if their ghost hangs around to haunt the story and continue the humor.

After reading the book, I did a little research and sure enough Anansi is or was a real spider-god of West African and Caribbean mythology or folklore, and he did own the right to all stories according to legend and was a cunning little trickster of a spider. Once you start to read about Anansi, then you may begin to see what he represents and what this book in turn represents in some fashion or another. I also learned that there is a movie adaption of this book in the works, so I will be eager to see how that goes.

Gaiman, you are a genius and I am completely envious of your writing talent. You encompass a style and grace that is rare and appealing to readers of all genres. It is not often that a book can make me laugh out loud. I definitely recommend this book to anyone and I look forward to reading Gaiman’s other “stories”.

This is my conceited opinion, and I am sticking with it…until a massive flock of crazed birds tries to peck my eyeballs out.

October 10, 2008 Posted by | Book Reviews | , , , , , , | Leave a comment