Oscar, who’s family is front and centre of the novel, is “not one of those Dominican cats everybody’s always going on about — he wasn’t no home-run hitter or a fly bachatero, not a playboy.” Oscar is a fat, self-loathing dweeb and aspiring science fiction writer, who dreams of becoming “the Dominican Tolkien.” He’s one of those kids who tremble with fear during gym class and use “a lot of huge-sounding nerd words like indefatigable and ubiquitous” when talking to kids who could barely finish high school. He moons after girls who won’t give him the time of day and enters and leaves college a sad virgin. He wears “his nerdiness like a Jedi wore his light saber”; he “couldn’t have passed for Normal if he’d wanted to.”
Oscar’s beautiful sister, Lola — a “Banshees-loving punk chick,” becomes “one of those tough Jersey dominicanas” who order men about. Yunior, Oscar’s college roommate and Lola’s onetime boyfriend, do their best to try to get him to shape up. They try to get him to eat less and exercise more, to leave his dorm room and venture out into the world. Oscar makes a halfhearted effort and then tells Yunior to leave him alone. He goes back to his writing, his day-dreams, his suicidal thoughts. Yunior begins to think that Oscar may be living under a family curse, “a high-level fukú”, which has doomed him, like his mother, to lasting unhappiness in love.
There is a lot of Dominican Republic history, especially the dictator Trujillo: “Homeboy dominated Santo Domingo like it was his very own private Mordor; not only did he lock the country away from the rest of the world, isolate it behind the Plátano Curtain, he acted like it was his very own plantation, acted like he owned everything and everyone, killed whomever he wanted to kill, sons, brothers, fathers, mothers, took women away from their husbands on their wedding nights and then would brag publicly about ‘the great honeymoon’ he’d had the night before. His Eye was everywhere; he had a Secret Police that out-Stasi’d the Stasi, that kept watch on everyone, even those everyones who lived in the States.”
This novel earned Diaz the Pulitzer Prize. An excellent read.