Brow Beat

Junot Díaz, Our Poet Laureate of Pulchritude

Junot Diaz
Nobody describes women quite like Junot Díaz.


Oh, hello. I’d like to introduce you to someone. Reader, this is Nilda. Oh man, Nilda is something. She’s Dominican, and has super-long hair, like those Pentecostal girls, and a chest you wouldn’t believe—I’m talking world-class. She’s nice, right? Or, like, have you met Alma? She has a long tender horse neck and a big Dominican ass that seems to exist in a fourth dimension beyond jeans. And oh shit don’t even get me started on Magda, with the big mouth and big hips and dark curly hair you could lose a hand in.

These are just a few of the fine, fine women who date Yunior, the hero of Junot Díaz’s excellent new collection of stories, This Is How You Lose Her. As the title suggests, these are also the women Yunior can’t keep, and as you read the book you’ll feel a sharp pang of regret each time one dumps him. Not because he doesn’t deserve it—he’s a conflicted, sexaholic jerk for most of the book—but because Junot Díaz is so unbelievably excellent at describing sexy Latinas. (The descriptions above are in his words.) Díaz is not just the Pulitzer-winning author of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. He’s not just an energetic stylist who expertly moves between high-literary storytelling and fizzy pop, between geek culture and immigrant life, between romance and high drama. He’s also our finest describer of hot chicas—America’s poet laureate of pulchritude.

Like many writers, Díaz took a few books to really hit his stride. His debut collection, Drown, is sharp and arresting, but sadly lacking in girls with asses for days. In part that’s because the Yunior in Drown’s stories is younger, shallower, less worldly—assuming he’s the same Yunior—and so Díaz, hewing close to his point of view, describes the women he meets with the straightforwardness of youth. “Leti had some serious tetas,” Yunior notes approvingly of one girl in “Fiesta, 1980,” and someday scholars of Díaz’s mamis will etch that phrase in stone on a statue in Bergen, NJ.

Díaz’s commercial breakthrough, Oscar Wao, was also his breakthrough in lady-describing. Look no further than page 13, where a neighbor of seven-year-old Oscar is described thus: “Mari Colón, a thirty-something postal employee who wore red on her lips and walked like she had a bell for an ass.” Oh, my. Sit back for a moment and admire that sentence, the way you might otherwise sit back and admire the ass in question. Five pages later, we meet the first girl who dumps Oscar, Maritza. Oscar never forgives himself for that one. “A ghetto Mary Jane, hair as black and lush as a thunderhead, probably the only Peruvian girl on the planet with pelo curlier than his sister’s … body fine enough to make old men forget their infirmities, and from the sixth grade on dating men two, three times her age.” Like once-awkward Maritza, a newly confident Díaz is parading his talents in front of us, daring us to stare.

Later in the novel we meet the girl who becomes Oscar’s salvation and his ruination both, the 36-year-old “semiretired puta” Ybón Pimentel, who is introduced in a tangle of Spanglish so alluring that it doesn’t even matter that I don’t quite understand it:

She was one of those golden mulatas that French-speaking Caribbeans call chabines, that my boys call chicas de oro; she had snarled, apocalyptic hair, copper eyes, and was one whiteskinned relative away from jaba.

What’s jaba? What’s a chabine? I don’t know, but I know that in this moment I want to run my hands through the wild hair of this mulata as badly as Oscar does, and therein lies the hidden magic of Junot Díaz’s chicas de oro. Though his stories are about men, mostly, he gives a lot of thought to these women, who spark to life on the page with vivid personalities and desires that go far beyond their big-assed hotness. And, maybe even more importantly, Díaz’s heroes love them so bad that we love them too. Oscar pines for Ybón, loves her from afar, even (spoiler alert) dies for her. Yunior may be a dick but oh, God, does he regret every bad thing he does to lose these women. In story after story he pines for the loves he threw away, and so with every woman who’s introduced in a Junot Díaz story we see in her beauty her eventual disdain and disappearance. And so we love her more.

It doesn’t hurt that she’s, you know,got her jacket off and enough buttons open on her blouse to show you the black bra you bought her and the freckles on her chest. Or that the girl is luminous, with beautiful jíbara skin, diamond-sharp features, wears her hair in this super-black Egypto-cut, her eyes caked in eyeliner, her lips painted black, has the biggest roundest tits you’ve ever seen. Or even that she’s married and hot for days in the late-thirties Dominican middle-class woman sort of way. Yunior and Oscar love them all, because Díaz loves them all, and so we love them all. Gracias, Yunior.