This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Díaz
Riverhead • $26.95 • ISBN 9781594487361
On sale September 11, 2012
Junot Díaz won the Pulitzer (and a pile of other awards) for The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, but I've always been all about Drown, his first collection of short stories and the book that singled him out as the most promising literary voice of the Dominican-American community. As much as the world recognizes him as a genius novelist, I have to say that when I heard the third book from Díaz would be a collection of short stories, I could barely contain myself. Victory for the short story!
Five years after Oscar Wao and 16 after Drown, Díaz didn't disappoint. The stories explore the strengths and failings of Dominican-American love and relationships, from cheating men to struggling immigrant families. Readers will recognize bullheaded Yunior, who first made an appearance in Drown and is a recurring protagonist in This Is How You Lose Her, as well as other characters like Yunior's brother Rafa.
One of my favorite stories from the collection, "Otravida, Otravez," does not star Yunior or any of his girlfriends, but rather a young Dominican couple trying to put down roots in the U.S. An excerpt is below:
"While he sits by the window and smokes I pull the last letter his wife wrote to him out of my purse and open it in front of him. He doesn't know how brazen I can be. One sheet, smelling of violet water. Please, Virta has written neatly at the center of the page. That's all. I smile at Ramón and place the letter back in the envelope.
Ana Iris once asked me if I loved him and I told her about the lights in my old home in the capital, how they flickered and you never knew if they would go out or not. You put down your things and you waited and couldn't do anything really until the lights decided. This, I told her, is how I feel."
Keep an eye open for an interview with Junot Díaz for This Is How You Lose Her in our September issue!
The Last Nude by Ellis Avery
Riverhead • $25.95 • ISBN 9781594488139
Published January 5, 2012
I was drawn to Ellis Avery's The Last Nude because a) how could you not be drawn to that bold jacket? b) I had just finished An Object of Beauty and was on a novels-about-art kick and c) there's a big honkin' blurb from Emma Donoghue, one of my favorite authors, on the cover.
The story is about the real-life Art Deco painter Tamara de Lempicka, and the relationship she strikes up with her muse, Rafaela, the woman depicted on the jacket in the painting Beautiful Rafaela. By the way, this painting sold at Sotheby's in November. The winning price? $8.4 million. I'm embedding a video from Sotheby's below the excerpt, where you can see the Vice President of Impressionist & Modern Art talking about the piece.
But back to the book (which can be yours for only $25.95). I'm enjoying the story because the setting is wonderful (Paris in the 1920s) and the relationship between artist and muse is believable and intriguing. As Megan Fishmann writes in a review in the January issue of BookPage, "Avery weaves historical fact with electrically charged narrative . . . Filled with fabulous literary anecdotes and characters that seem to leap off the page, The Last Nude is a novel perfect for lovers of the 1920s, of Paris or simply of love stories."
Here's a scene from the first day that Rafaela models for Tamara. Tamara has made her wear a plain dress while she poses. After looking at the other portraits in Tamara's apartment, Rafaela wishes she could look more glamorous.
As the minutes passed, I realized I no longer felt uneasy. I felt jealous. Why did I get the ugly dress, the ugly painting? And why didn't Tamara paint my face? The painting next to the mannish woman showed a nude—sleek, modern, Olympian—with her arm across her face. Was this Tamara's kink? She didn't paint faces? No, I saw plenty of faces in the room, some, to be honest, not as nice as mine. It was as if, by putting me in the ugly dress, she had made herself blind to me. Beautiful, she'd said. Did she really think so? I wanted to take off my dress and lie down on that velvet couch for her: I wanted her to see me in the grand way she saw the others.
What are you reading today? Are you interested in reading The Last Nude?
Here's the video: