Junot Diaz: “Miss Lora”
04/19/2012 § 1 Comment
Originally published in The New Yorker, April 23, 2012.
So yeah, this is Junot Diaz’s thing, no? Using second person, whether it’s warranted or not; dropping into Spanish, for flavor and to stand out (why am I remembering No One Talks to the Colonel?); talking about young boys (and often their brothers or friends who are like brothers) and the things they do for pussy; and calling the whole thing fiction, which it most assuredly is. He’ll even throw in a few five-dollar words (“fulgurating,” “untrammelled”) to show he’s serious, a move straight out of the T. C. Boyle handbook (or thesaurus). But beyond the immediate effect of his naked text — “Why is sex with me a mistake, you demanded, but she just pulled your hand out of her pants” — this particular story is either slight in of itself, or is just too similar to the rest of Diaz’s oeuvre. Not that he’s necessarily written about a sixteen-year-old muscleman falling into an affair with la professora, the titular Miss Lora, before. But given how lightly he explores that subject, has he really written about it now?
Here’s what you can expect: the coarse differences between his girlfriend Paloma and the wizened Miss Lora, the former intent on escaping the neighborhood, the other a fixture of it:
That night, you are allowed to touch Paloma’s clit with the tip of your tongue, but that’s it. She holds your head back with the force of her whole life, and eventually you give up, demoralized.
You know I work, right? I know, you say, but I dreamed that something happened to you. It’s sweet of you to lie, she sighs, and even though she is falling asleep she lets you bone her straight in the ass. Fucking amazing you keep saying for all four seconds it takes you to come. You have to pull my hair while you do it, she confides. That makes me shoot like a rocket.
Here’s what’s missing: anything truly revealing about “your” relationship with your brother or father, beyond the fact that they were also both sucios (and are both gone, the brother having died early on, the narrator positing that his “I’ll fuck anything” attitude perhaps being a reason for this whole Miss Lora relationship, when in fact he’s really just a horny boy who isn’t getting any from his girl). There’s an underutilized theme, too, in the 1985 setting: although You talk about Your terrible dreams of instant nuclear annihilation, it’s dropped fairly early from the story, and is never really tied to Miss Lora, who, despite a lengthy paragraph on her history, exists more as a fantasy than a real character — both a fierce sex object and a supportive college adviser, pushing him through the application process. She’s a wonderful and selfless person, no-strings-attached, not at all clingy, and that makes for a rather boring story. Diaz also chooses, perhaps wisely, to avoid traditional drama: it’s not until his senior year of college that he shares this Secret with his new mujeron, and although she — hoping to protect him, echoing the strong women he falls for, the ones who can perhaps save him from being like his brother, if that’s what this is all about — goes to confront Miss Lora, nobody answers the door.
Miss Lora comes across as a guardian-angel-with-benefits, as uninteresting as she is flat-chested (“No breasts, no ass, even her hair failed to make the grade”); the main character is inactive and passive, too, an unfortunate side-effect of choosing the second person, in that Diaz makes the reader assume all the responsibility of action. And, as this ground’s been trodden by Diaz so often before, it’s hard to hear what — if anything — the author is even trying to communicate this time around. Happiness seems like a non-issue, so does morality, and while the final section hints that it all has to do with moving forward — Miss Lora being the one who truly turns him into an adult, in more ways than one — that doesn’t seem particularly attached to this specific story. One expects more from a Pulitzer Prize winner, no?