“The Cheater’s Guide to Love” is the final story, both chronologically and physically, in Junot Diaz’s stellar collection of short stories, This Is How You Lose Her. We find Díaz’s observant and introspective, tough but nerdy protagonist Yunior an older man–a tenured college professor–but not a much wiser one. The story, told over a five year span, is also the origin story of Yunior the writer, where Yunior comes to terms with his cheating ways, where he changes and begins to write the book we have been reading all along.
Yunior goes through various stages of grief following a serious break-up with his lawyer girlfriend: he sleeps with lots of women, he begs for forgiveness from his ex, and then becomes a lonely recluse after coming to the realization of what he’s lost.
After the worst of the grieving is over, Yunior decides to get back out into the dating world, but has little success meeting someone compatible. He screws up a relationship with a Dominican woman named Noemi by being a macho dick.
Yunior begins on improving himself – he takes up yoga and running and he starts writing again. He dates someone half his age, but eventually she leaves him for a classmate. The year ends with a failed affair with a married Dominican woman. So while Yunior is on the road to recovery, his situation hasn’t improved much.
Yunior’s lawyer ex returns to the picture, pregnant and claiming Yunior to be the father. She moves in with him and basically ignores him.
It’s hard not to copy out this entire section because it’s all relevant to the point Diaz is trying to make. Near the end Yunior reads his ‘Doomsday Book,’ a copy of the emails and pictures from his cheating days compiled by his ex: “You read the whole thing cover to cover…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.”
Encouraged by his cousin Elvis, Yunior starts writing “The Cheater’s Guide to Love,” that is, the story we’re reading: “In the months that follow you bend to the work, because it feels like hope, like grace – and because you know in your lying cheater’s heart that sometimes a start is all we ever get.”
So in the end “The Cheater’s Guide to Love” marks the start of the path to redemption that Yunior charts in the stories that make up the rest of This Is How You Lose Her. In the end you understand that the collection’s numerous second-person stories are not just strangely structured tales directed to some (possibly) unfaithful reader, but are written to Yunior’s younger self.
In an interview with Richard Wolinsky in Guernica, Diaz admits to playing with the role of Yunior as a narrator: “What is the trick that Yunior plays in This Is How You Lose Her? It’s that the book we are reading is not directly from me. It’s Yunior De La Casa’s book. He, at the end of the book, is seen writing the book that now we realize that we have been reading.”
It’s an interesting decision to leave this story, which connects all of the previous ones, until the very end. It allows the reader to digest each story on its own before stepping back to see the stories as a collective whole and interpret why the author (and Yunior) chose to present them the way he did.