Diaz’ Oscar Wao and Drown

I seem to be writing quite a bit about failure lately. Failure in drafting and failure in returning to drafts. Just recently I felt the need and urge to revise my thesis manuscript I completed for my MFA. That too is a failed document. it got me a degree and teaching gigs but i still feel that document failed. I read it and send it out trying to get it to catch on somewhere but I recognize what a fanboy I am. Junot Diaz is an author I obsessed over for years since I first read his work in New York State.

Drown and the work it represents for me is such terse and provocative prose. It is laconic and represents the way I feel at times. The characters march around in their illigetimate lives. They sense their own failures as people and the story arcs are heartbreaking. From the aged Dominican making two lives–one in Jersey and one in the Dominican Republis. I loved this book so much I even mentioned it in my thesis defense. I could have writing my book without Diaz’ book–or Denis Johnson’s book Jesus’ Son and Angels. These books helped me capture Lolo and his illigetimate world. His world of failure.

Oscar Wao in comparison is such a largely scoped book. From the Jersey shore to the Dominican shores, the book’s scope is impressive. The use of spanglish that I embraced in Drown has been enhanced to include D and D slang and comic book allusions and references. Wao swims in Oscar Wilde and legitimate texts and also more illigitimate texts. Almost in the way the characters swim with the academy and with their own personal literacies of gorwing up poor or a minority or also growing up fatherless. And in a discussion of those failures, this book is a success.

I used to joke about artist types who called failures art and joked about that with writer friends. In grad school to call your failure art meant you had prviledge and flunking out or going back home and working retail was not a fear. Without a family or without strong family ties and money and refuge. failure is tranferring to a different school. For me failure–as in Diaz’ books–has been about the difference between a life and having no life.

So in my revision of the Highland Stories–stories about Lolo’s failures and stories about my failures at relationships or with family–I sense the presence of Diaz and I try and weed it out. Trying to find where I am stealing and where I am borrowing. And maybe that is a success. To find my own voice with Diaz’ as the springboard.

More on failed manuscripts to come…

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john paul jaramillo

John Paul Jaramillo’s debut story collection The House of Order was named a 2013 Int’l Latino Book Award Finalist, and his most recent work Little Mocos is now available from Twelve Winters Press. In 2013 Latino Boom: An Anthology of U.S. Latino Literature listed Jaramillo as one of its Top 10 New Latino Authors to Watch and Read. He is currently a professor of composition and literature at Lincoln Land College-Springfield, Illinois.

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