Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Molly McCall: One Book Group and One Brief Wondrous Novel

Many people agreed that the writing was masterful. Kristen said she wished she could write like this. Marian called the prose “amazing.” Rachel likened the style to jazz; Doug countered that it’s more like Hip-Hop.

But not everyone was cajoled by the author’s musicality. The constant drumbeat of Spanglish slowed Abby down. Susan didn’t find it lyrical at all. And it failed to delight Bobbie.

It was Monday night and the Kepler’s Fiction Book Group had gathered to discuss “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” by Junot Diaz. There were 11 of us in attendance. (Warning: Spoilers abound!)

I gave a little background on the author and the novel. Then, we started around the circle. Each person said what he or she thought of the book and, if they were feeling so inclined, rated the book on a scale of 1 to 5, 1 being the worst-ever grade and 5 the highest honor.

By the time we get to the end of the circle, discussion had already broken out a few times. One 5 had been dished out, two 4.5’s had flirted with the high grade, and a string of 4’s made me nervous that everyone just liked it and the conversation wouldn’t have a spark. Ha! My needless worries.

We spent some time talking about the way Diaz riddled the work with Dominican slang and Sci-Fi references. Did it put you off? Did you let it wash over you? We figured only a small handful of people in this world could get the language and the genre stuff -- so why did he do it? One theory is that it shoves the reader into this semi-alienated space -- a place well-known to Oscar Wao. It’s certainly wildly inventive.

And what about those footnotes? Doug hated them. He found them excessive and felt they could have been worked into the novel if they needed to be there. Other people disagreed and for a moment we were off talking about the footnotes’ content (Trujillo, dictatorships, the terror of life in a place like that) and their influence (David Foster Wallace, bless him, came to mind). Kristen made the point that the footnotes were a kind of working out of the “fatherlessness” in Oscar’s family and in the Dominican Republic.

Unsurprisingly, Oscar himself absorbed a lot of our attention. Some people found him utterly unsympathetic. Marian thought he was “shadowy” and inaccessible. His death, she said, was pointless. Susan was also worn down by Oscar’s victimization. Nick, though, found it disconcerting how little of Oscar was in the tale. He wanted more. Andrea did too, I think. Oscar’s death absorbed some time -- did he die standing up for his true love? Was it suicide? Or one more pathetic act?

From there, we mulled the use of the word “wondrous” in the title, the role women played, the unusual way that Yunior, the narrator, also became a character.

After an hour and a half, we wrapped it up. We could have gone on, but the seats get hard after awhile, and our civilian lives call. It wasn’t a brief talk, but it was wondrous.

On Monday, April 13 we'll meet at 7 p.m. to discuss “The Dead of the House” by Hannah Green. Join us!

1 comment:

  1. Hi Molly,
    I spent Tuesday in my backyard, pulling the weeds and planting a couple of new plants in my rock garden, with my beagle Emily Family by my side. I paused only once, anticipating your first post and reading it hungrily, oblivious to my garden dirty hands and my hair full of dust and leaves. Yes, note to my self: Get garden gloves.

    I want to know how do you decide on book club selections? Thanks for contributing to the Well-Read Donkey.