Without researching the novel ahead of time I had zero expectations for it. Not evening reading the back of it, I was pleasantly surprised when I realized what this book was actually about. I connected with the novel in a way that I couldn’t with the others. The tragic stories of Oscar and those around him are often compared to the sci-fi or fantasy genres that he was greatly interested in. Being a Genre nerd myself, I believe it is the narrator, Yunior’s inside references and comparisons that allowed me to relate to Oscar on a level unlike any of the other characters we have read about this quarter. It is the same love of Genre that established myself as an outsider since a young age.
First, I want to talk about Genre and how it affects Oscar. When Yunior speaks of Oscar’s love of Genre, it is always capitalized. Genre is used to refer to the sci-fi/fantasy comic books, films and television, and games that could be considered “nerdy”. Because of this, it is Genre that establishes Oscar as a “nerd” and it is his nerdiness, intelligence, and appearance that establish him as an outsider. Along with this, he feels like an outsider within the Dominican community because of his interests. Then once his family moves back to the Dominican Republic, he is even more of an outsider. Fitting in almost nowhere, his only real solid ground and “home” is Genre.
Now directing attention to chapter 4, this is where Yunior talks of living with Oscar in Demarest Hall. Right off the bat it is apparent he is talking himself up in a macho jock ladies man sort of way and making Oscar sound even more sad than he really is. Yunior wants to conform to the stereotype of Dominican masculinity, less interested in Oscar’s “fanboy madness”and more about weight lifting. Keep in mind, it has been Yunior making all these Genre references in the novel so far. On page 172, it becomes apparent that he is ashamed to know about nerdy things when he says Oscar put up a sign on his door in elvish language. “(Please don’t ask me how I knew this. Please.)” Yunior narrates. It’s further down this same page that he talks about giving Oscar shit for watching the anime film Akira all the time, though he “liked shit like Akira”. And this is where I immediately found a weird parallel.
Bear with me as I add some context. Akira is a 1988 dystopian cyberpunk anime directed by Katsuhiro Otomo based on his manga of the same name. The film has amassed a large cult following and is considered by many a landmark of Japanese animation. The plot revolves around a young biker with new found psychic powers named Tetsuo Shima, and his friend Shotaro Kaneda, the leader of their biker gang; The Capsules. Tetsuo is weak and introverted among the youngest in the gang, he has problems with being seen as junior member and a runt. He is stubborn and naive about the consequences of his actions as well as exhibiting an inferiority complex. Kaneda is egotistical and a show off, though beneath his tough cocky exterior he has a heart of gold. He looks out for the safety and well being of his close friends, especially Tetsuo.
I thought for awhile that I discovered an amazing inside Genre reference, but it turns out on page 184 it directly acknowledged. “I always thought of myself as the Kaneda of our dyad, but here I was playing Tetsuo.” states Yunior after witnessing Oscar hanging out with the goth girl Jenni. This was just one of the many Genre parallels and nerdy inside references that Diaz has placed in the book. I have found that my enjoyment of the novel is largely in part due to me being able to understand and catch all if not most of Genre in-jokes. Diaz has masterfully created a multidimensional character that feels like a real person, and it’s the depth of Oscar’s character that makes me feel as though I know him. I can’t help but feel like we would have gotten along.