Talking About the Wow in “Wao”
Posted by: Ted Balcom
The members of the Adult Reading Round Table’s literary fiction discussion group met recently to examine the multiple award winning novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, and like the book, the talk was lively and provocative.
“This guy is a pathetic wuss,” one reader opined. “All he cares about is getting laid.” Another participant chimed in, “He may not be particularly admirable, but the real story is about how his life affects other people.” A third member spoke up: “It’s the strong women in this book that really got to me. Their characterizations made the novel worth reading.”
Our leader challenged us to identify the protagonist of the book. Is it really Oscar? Or one of the other powerfully described members of his family? And who is this story going to appeal to? The group agreed that the salty language prevents it from being a first choice for “the little old ladies who come to the library looking for a good read.” But how about teenage boys, that segment frequently designated as non-readers — would they be intrigued? One woman in the group who said she had a teenage son thought it might work — the slang in the book and the science fiction references could draw him in. Another member laughed and said, “Maybe it helps one to like this book if you’re originally from New Jersey, as I am.” (This, of course, was a reference to one of the settings in the book.)
The group ultimately concluded that Oscar Wao has a lot to offer many different types of readers. Yes, it’s definitely literary fiction, but it’s so vivid and so rich that it almost borders on being excessive. And it’s the kind of book you really want to talk about with others who’ve read it, just because there’s so much in it — characters, plot, language, literary references, even a dollop of magical realism.
The leader said she’d recommended the novel to a group of men in her community — mostly stay-at-home dads, who meet regularly in a bar to talk about books. “It was perfect for them,” she exclaimed. “They found so many things in it to talk about.”
So — don’t be put off by the towering literary reputation of Dominican author Junot Diaz. Embrace the “wao” factor in his book and get ready for a wild and wonderful discussion!