Saturday, May 05, 2012

Junot Diaz on Older Women

My favorite Dominican-American novelist, Junot Diaz, has published a fine and true (in the fictional sense) story in The New Yorker about a love-sex affair with an older woman.

 "Miss Lora" comes along in the 16-year-old hero Yunior's life just after he has lost his brother to cancer, and he's lonely, horny and confused. Basically, he needs an older woman in his life right about then, and along comes a middle-aged single teacher from a local high school in New Jersey. The girlfriend who calls Miss Lora "that old fucking hag" won't sleep with Yunior, but Miss Lora will, oh yes, she will.

It's all wrong for Yunior and Miss Lora to get together because he's too young and she's too old, but they do. And it's not just a one-time thing, either. They keep getting back together because their attraction is powerful.

Junot Diaz (Photo: AP)
"You are scared stupid at what you are doing, but it is also exciting and makes you feel less lonely in the world," Diaz writes. "And you are sixteen, and you have a feeling that, now the Ass Engine has started, no force on the earth will ever stop it."

OK, I have to say that I especially liked this story because I related to it personally. I was the older woman in a young man's life once. And it felt so powerful and so wrong, and we shouldn't have come together but we did because we couldn't help ourselves. And then we went and married each other, didn't we? That was nine years ago, and we're still together.

Well, "Miss Lora" doesn't end so happily, but it ends the way most affairs end between an older woman and a younger man. The big difference between my story and Diaz's is about ten years: Yunior meets Miss Lora when he's 16, and I met Dave when he was 25.

"I assumed the reader would judge the situation immediately; this is, after all, illegal conduct," Diaz tells The New Yorker in an online interview about his story. "But I had hoped to produce a piece of art that allowed the reader to experience a number of contradictory streams of feelings simultaneously. Sure, it would be swell if someone got to know Miss Lora before they judged her, or if their judgment was overturned by reading the story, but it’s also cool if a reader judges and knows the character simultaneously and neither of these experiences alters or counteracts the other. In a culture like ours, obsessed with its dichotomies, giving folks the opportunity to work out their simultaneity muscle is a worthy goal"