July 23, 2012

"The Cheater's Guide to Love"

By Junot Díaz
~9200 words

A Dominican professor in Boston sinks into a deep depression after his fiancée leaves him upon discovering his infidelity.

As is Díaz's "Miss Lora," the story is told from a second-person perspective that centers on the main character, Yunior. While a second-person POV is an unusual (though not unprecedented) choice, it works well in this instance, resulting in a first-person feel with a bit more distance. Whereas in "Miss Lora" the distance could be said to reflect the time that transpires between the events and their narration, in "Cheater's Guide" it has more to do with the sense of shame the narrator feels about his actions:
She could have caught you with one sucia, she could have caught you with two, but because you're a totally batshit cuero who never empties his e-mail trash can, she caught you with fifty! Sure, over a six-year period, but still. Fifty fucking girls? God damn!
This sense of shame becomes the story's strength. Despite the fact that the main character is a royal jerk, we come to feel a certain sympathy for him because he is aware of his flaw and critical of it even as he seems unable to correct it. At the end of the story, we find him paging through what he calls his Doomsday Book: all the emails he sent to his women, which his fiancée compiled and mailed to him along with a note: "Dear Yunior, for your next book." The narrator reflects:
You are surprised at what a fucking chickenshit coward you are. It kills you to admit it, but it's true. You are astounded by the depths of your mendacity. When you finish the book a second time, you say the truth: You did the right thing, negra. You did the right thing.
An interesting subplot involves the issue of false paternity, first in a law student who tells Yunior that he is the father of her child only to reveal the truth in the delivery room, where she kicks him out. Later, he flies to the Dominican Republic with his friend Elvis to visit Elvis's supposed son, Elvis Junior, who turns out not to be his son at all. Both incidents succeed in conveying the desultory nature of the narrator's existence as he plumbs the depths of despair. A debilitating illness that keeps him from enjoying physical activity adds to our sympathy for him.

Díaz's storytelling is powerful and his language is strong (though I often wonder how readers with no knowledge of Spanish fare with him), but it's the superbly drawn characters of "The Cheater's Guide to Love" that garner top honors for this story.


Reader poll: I found "The Cheater's Guide to Love" to be ___.


  1. Nice notes on the story, but I had a strange feeling that I'd read it before. Maybe I had -- it seems a little too similar to a 2010 story by Jerome Edwards in Epiphany:

    Thoughts? I think Diaz might be losing his lustre for me...

    1. Thanks for the link. I didn't know the Edwards story and found it very powerful. You're right that the resonances with "Cheater's Guide," including the second-person perspective, are quite interesting. Whether that's due to coincidence or influence or something else, I'm not prepared to say.

      The thing about Díaz is it all starts to feel the same after a while. If I were grading his trajectory as a writer, I'd have to mark off for that (as I would with Alice Munro, Tessa Hadley, and a few other TNY staples). But since my purpose on this blog is essentially to "workshop" the stories, I read them as discrete entities and judge them on their own merits. This one, I thought, was pretty successful.

      Thanks for reading!