June 03, 2012

Junot Diaz's "Monstro" - A Compelling Short Story!

I was eagerly awaiting this week’s copy of “The New Yorker’ as it contained Junot Diaz’s short story titled ‘Monstro’, and it was worth the wait! I read all of its eleven pages in less than an hour and in one sitting.
Junot Diaz claims he’s “been fascinated by end-of-the-world stories, by outbreak narratives, and always wanted to set a world-ender on Hispaniola”, and so he did in 'Monstro'.  The story is “set some years in the future and concerns a mysterious “black mold-fungus” infection that starts showing up on poor Haitians in Port-au-Prince, bewildering the international medical community.”  Despite a dual storyline, Diaz builds up the suspense surrounding the ‘monstro’ pretty rapidly, mostly because Diaz provides vivid descriptions of what the ‘monstro’ does, creating within its victims “a berserk murderous blood rage’ leading to ‘an outbreak of homicidal violence’ even amongst those who had so much as never ” raised a finger to hurt in anger their whole lives”.  Diaz’s story, though enchanting has him treading haloed grounds with a futuristic setting where the world is on the “cusp of a catastrophic ecological collapse”, which immediately has the reader thinking of similar settings created by H. G. Wells, Arthur Clark, and Asimov. Consequently, my first thought after reading Diaz’s story was that it reminded me of P.D. James’ dystopian novel “Children of Men” (which was also made into a film by Alfonso Cuaron).
 Diaz’s depiction of the ‘possessed’ is  riveting as these strange beings spew forth horrific violence and destruction. In a parrallel storyline there is Alex, a nineteen year old student from Brown visiting his ailing mother in DR (Dominican Republic).  There was an immediate sense of deja vous when I encountered Alex, Diaz's protagonist; he shared so many traits with Oscar, the protagonist of Junot Diaz’s Pulitzer award winning novel in 2005, “The Brief and Wondrous Life ofOscar Wao”.  Like Oscar, Alex is an American college  student seeking encounters of the heart on his home island of Hispaniola. I was not particularly drawn to or intrigued by Alex.  I think he falls prey to the more dynamic though elusive ‘invaders’, the ’possessed’, or even the ‘forty foot tall cannibals running lose on the island’ that had ‘destroyed Haiti’ and were perhaps responsible for the ‘dead zone that had opened over a six-hundred mile chunk of the Caribbean’. Alex is somehow disappointing, and appears, in my opinion, a work-in-progress.
Junot Diaz is a master storyteller, and ‘Monstro’ is proof of that as it both grips and enthralls the reader.  Inspite of the weak protagonist, I enjoyed the story very much, but I do have reservations about what Diaz plans to do with this enthralling story.  Apparently, Diaz plans to expand Monstro into a novel even though, as Diaz himself admits, “The danger always is that by expanding on context, you rob your story of content.” Given that ‘Monstro’ is Junot Diaz's maiden venture into ‘speculative fiction’, and a pretty successful one at that, perhaps he should just let 'Monstro' remain the short story it is.  However, if he does “cobble the courage together ...to finish the book” then he will be contending with the likes of Orwell, Tolkien, Heinlein, and other such stalwarts in this genre, and I wonder how and if 'Monstro' will be able to hold its own.    
As for now, those of you with a penchant for page turners, ‘Monstro’ is definitely a must-read.