Saturday, April 27, 2013

Miss Lora (Six Shorts, 1/6)

The main character of the story is a young man whose family immigrated to the United States. The language of the story is English, but it is peppered with nuggets of Spanish, many of them coarse, most of them regional, some of them blundered (e.g., “Se metío por mis ojos,” instead of “Se metió por mis ojos”). There is plenty of sex. An older brother casts a long shadow over the narrative. Take a wild guess who the author of the story is.

It’s Junot Díaz, of course. The short story is “Miss Lora,” which you can read online on the New Yorker website (here). It’s the first of six stories selected as finalists for the 2013 Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Short Story Award. The collection of six stories is sold as an ebook on Amazon (here). It’s a good snapshot of contemporary short fiction.

The story, told in the second person, describes how the main character became romantically involved with an older woman, a neighbor called Miss Lora. “Romantically involved” is a silk-laced way to refer to an aggregate of sexual escapades, hidden from the main character’s mother as well as from his girlfriend. There is no shortage of explicit descriptions of these sexual episodes.

The narrative is forceful, and it moves briskly through the plot until it reaches a nostalgic ending, years after most of the actions described in it. The story has that going for it.

But I am always puzzled by the interest that Díaz’s fiction manages to spark among English speakers. Can people who have no Spanish in their lexicon really follow some of the paragraphs in the story that jump back and forth between Spanish and English? I wonder, and I have wondered it before (here). For native Spanish speakers, the dose of Spanish here has to seem suspicious, and Díaz’s stories have an unfailing share of Spanish 101 mistakes. So where does the excitement come from? I cannot go beyond wondering.

Unbelievably enough, though, this story snatched the award (here). It surprises me, because, as we’ll see in later posts, there were at least two other very robust candidates in the collection. But de gustibus, I guess. It’s not an outright bad story. And the award did attract some good fiction, so kudos for that.

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