Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The New Yorker: "The Pura Principle" by Junot Diaz

Yunior, who is still in high school, lives with his older brother Rafa and their mother. But Rafa has leukemia, and has been spending a lot of time in the hospital. Meanwhile, Yunior gets high a lot, and the mother spends time with her religious pals, the “Four Horsefaces of the Apocalypse.” When Rafa comes home, he doesn’t take care of himself. He goes out partying, gets drunk and high, and brings women home, all over the mother’s objections. He even spends some time with his old girlfriend, Tammy, who is now married to a white guy. But nothing happens between them, which suggests that he really cares for her—unlike the other girls he brings home. After a relapse, Rafa seems to settle down. He takes a job in a yarn shop, but after a few weeks he collapses and is brought home to recover. Which is how he meets Pura, who was in the shop when he collapsed. Pura is from the Dominican Republic and the mother doesn’t trust her, thinks she’s only out to get her green card, but Rafa won’t listen to her.  Shouting matches and estrangement ensue.
The plot here isn’t special, and even the setting is somewhat familiar. But the reason you should read this story is for the voice of Yunior, a jumble of Spanish and English and hybrid slang.
“O.K., for the record, I didn’t think Pura was so bad; she was a hell of a lot better than most of the hos my brother hand brought around. Guapisima as hell: tall and indiacita, with huge feet and an incredibly soulful face, but unlike your average hood hottie Pura seemed not to know what to do with her fineness, was sincerely lost in all the pulchritude.”
Pulchritude? Yeah, Yunior uses words like “pulchritude.”  So the voice is great, and the plot is good too—slightly familiar but compelling because of the setting.
This one is recommended.

March 22, 2010: “The Pura Principle” by Junot Diaz


Susan Woodring said...

Thanks for this, Cliff. Will definitely check out this story.

The Latent Fox said...

This story is classic Diaz. Aside from the fact that it features Yunior and Rafa, two staple characters from his short story collection, Drown, it is full of that potent language that makes reading Diaz so wonderful. Something about the way that Diaz captures the weird juxtaposition between old world and new world values (for this Dominican family) always rings true.

Heather said...

It was good, but very deja vu-ish...he's written about families with cancer before, and it felt very much like I'd read this story in another life.

F. Escobar said...

I hate to play the contrarian, but I didn't like this story very much. The voice was, in fact, what most bothered me. For one, there is an overdose of Spanish. I can read Spanish, so I understood the parts in Spanish, but if a story in English mixed up Russian slang into every other sentence I would most likely stop reading.

Not only that: the Spanish in the story is loaded with mistakes. In that little bit Clifford quoted, there is one mistake (the word "indiacita" is wrong: it should be "indiecita"). There are more.

Furthermore, that same quote has another element that made me distrust the narrator's voice: the sophistication of "pulchritude" (in the sentence after the quote, we find "demotic," another sophisticated word), as well as some refined references (such as "event-horizon personality"), coexist with a barrage of "fuck"s and a plethora of slang that would be okay it were more internally consistent. To me, this combination made the story seem like it was too obviously the work of an academic assuming a voice from the streets (which would be okay, if we couldn't see through to the academic in the background as much).