Creative Retelling of Junot Diaz’s Monstro, as told through Mysty’s First Person POV
Julian never knew what I was thinking, and it wasn’t his fault that he didn’t. I liked to keep it that way. My only powers in the male dominant world of the DR; ambiguity and being “difficult.” Julian was never interesting enough to share what I really felt or thought with. To him, I’m sure I was just BEAUTIFUL, and that was nothing new to me. I’d been struggling with the curse of beauty since I’d been born. Sometimes I wished I was anything but guapa. I fed into it when Alex would take pictures of me because it was him. When I was with Alex, I was still myself but something just a bit more, in Alex’s eyes there was a reasoning for how I was that others could never see. Julian staring at the obvious outside of me all the time wasn’t enough to make me want to give myself to him. The truth was I wouldn’t have even kissed him that night in La Zona at the club if I wasn’t tipsy from the Brugal shots and the feeling that the world was ending.
I’d felt it in my bones that evening, right before I kissed Julian. Alex had disappeared into the night with two german girls which I was used to, but on this night I knew I couldn’t be alone. Alex had always been the one who knew everything. For better or for worse, he knew everything and so it was only around him that I’d truly felt safe. Julian was harmless; boring; but harmless enough and probably why I’d pay attention to anyone BUT him, I’d break him in half if I did. Yet, on that evening I gave into my simple need for attention and company. I unfortunately knew how to get that attention even when I didn’t want it, and Julian was a simple boy so it was easy. I just wanted to feel connected to someone the moment ‘it’ happened I guess. Funny how instinct pushes you in that direction right? The second I kissed Julian though, I knew it wasn’t right. There were no sparks, no butterflies, just impending doom. The feeling crawling up my throat that things were going bad everywhere and had I settled for whatever was available at the time. Felt like I’d hit a new low. I just wanted to leave, I knew that I had really just wished Alex was there and even more that he wanted to be. Right after we felt the explosion all the way through to the Colonial District, the lights went out and a sudden sense of panic washed over me. Not for anyone else, but for myself. Here I was alone in the dark stuck with useless Julian. What if I never saw Alex again?
I knew Julian wasn’t the guy who would get us through the world ending but that Alex could be. To be quite honest, the only person I’d ever trusted with my darkest secret was Alex and it had created this sort of unbreakable bond that also damaged us. I think Alex thought because of what he knew happened to me, that I was untouchable or damaged goods. This was also why he would never let me out of his sight for too long. Maybe I was something he just didn’t want to damage further, knowing he’d never leave la pendeja esa Valentina. I guess I loved him in a way that I couldn’t admit and didn’t want to lose, so it was always easier to be friends and always angry. Julian was simply around all the time that year and to be honest, convenient. I thought he would be going back to the states soon anyway. Little did I know we were soon to be stuck together through the end of the world, all three of us.
We made it through the night and reached Alex’s house like it was a beacon. As we stared down at the fires and felt the heat from the dead sea, Julian like the idiot he is, asked about my mom like I was supposed to care. “She’s up in the cibao visiting family,” I responded then shivered after Alex reminded me there was no power up there either. Julian didn’t ask about my dad which I found strange, like he knew not to somehow. Yet I was sure Alex would never tell anyone about him so I shrugged it off. Everything was hot and smelled of death, The dead zone created by the ‘event’ pretty much left us with nothing to do except wonder, and as we did Alex got the idea that he should go capture the the horror of what was unfolding in Haiti the best he could. So as I stood there listening to his idea and ignoring Julian like nothing happened the night before, my instinct said to join him. What the hell was I going to do if they left without me anyway? I’d follow Alex into hell, which is eventually what I did.
I chose Mysty from Junot Diaz’s “Monstro” specifically for this retelling because I find Diaz’s writing problematic. I find that in his storytelling he rarely gives voice to his women characters. I chose the last scene in which the major explosion happened in Haiti because I felt that’s where Mysty’s actions could be the most misinterpreted or misrepresented by the narrator. I understand that Diaz is writing from a first person, but it is as if women are made only to be admired and not understood in all of his story telling. To be brutally honest, this alone makes his work hard to read for me.
The constant machismo found in his writing is something he somewhat admits to in his “This Week In Fiction: Junot Diaz” interview by Cressida Leyshon, published on April 15th 2012 for another one of his short stories published in The New Yorker titled Miss Lora. In describing how he told the story of a sixteen year old cancer patient finding comfort in a much older woman, Diaz states something about his experience in interpreting these types of relationships with women in latin culture; “Two of them had been in similar situations, even lost their virginities to older women. They were proud of what happened too, a serious notch in their masculine belts. This type of impropriety was not as uncommon as one might imagine, not in a Caribbean community like the one I grew up in, where boys were encouraged toward a hypermasculine ideal, where the line between adults and minors was not as safeguarded as it should have been.” This admission to a hyper masculine way of thinking within his culture, is prominent throughout his writing and I’d say becomes a sort of theme throughout it. I find it to be a lazy excuse for outdated sexism. Diaz being a major figure in Latin literature and simply solidifying the age old views of male and female heteronormative relationships, is frankly tiring. Because of this, I wanted to turn that theme on its head and give Mysty a voice of her own that wasn’t through a male’s interpretation of herself and actions, but instead her own clear view.
In writing this retelling I tried to mimic Diaz’s exact styling of writing, with spanglish inserts for descriptions and original Spanish nouns for things because it is uniquely Diaz to do so. I think that one could read a story of his without a title or author listed and still know it was his writing. I wanted to keep that same feeling. The feeling in the story “Monstro” was that a Dominican man was telling the tale of an outbreak in the rarely focused on country of Haiti, but through a very Dominican lens. For example in the very first line of “Monstro,” Diaz writes: ”A disease that could make a Haitian blacker? It was the joke of the year. Everybody in our sector accusing everybody else of having it. You couldn’t display a blemish or catch some sun on the street without the jokes starting. Someone would point to a spot on your arm and say, Diablo, haitiano, que te pasó?” (471). This point of view is rarely shared openly outside of Diaz’s work and showcases the inherent thoughts of separation from Haiti most Dominicans can seem to have. I didn’t want to take away from that. In “Reading Junot Diaz” by Christopher Gonzalez, Gonzalez defines the work clearly; saying: “Still Diaz’s story and resulting novel brings much-needed diversity to this tradition of fiction. The narrator, who has survived the outbreak is Dominican. A majority of the narrative recounts events that happen on the island of Hispaniola , and recasts the historical divisiveness between Dominicans and Haitians in a new context” (135). Knowing the standpoint Diaz was writing from, I chose to keep Mysty’s views of the events removed from any thought of the Haitians but mostly in her head and made sure to throw in quips about the Brugal and the district they were in, even talking about her own beauty in Spanish because she was also a Dominican on the same island, experiencing the same things as the original narrator in the story who is unnamed, (but I decided to give the name Julian to, slightly referencing Yunior from Diaz’s This is How You Lose Her, subconsciously). Mysty is a privileged Dominican girl in the same situation as the narrator so I felt she’d view the events of La Negura similarly, but not her interpretation of her interactions with the males around her.
In the original story “Monstro,” the narrator is speaking from a hindsight perspective, giving insight to events they are recounting. Gonzalez touches upon this in “Reading Junot Diaz” when he writes: “Similarly there is a dramatic tension that arises as a consequence of the distance in time from the events that are narrated and the time in which the narration occurs. Because the narrator is reacting something that is part memoir, part oral history, we can assume several things that are never confirmed in the story but may be in the resulting novel. First the narrator is a survivor of the apocalypse. We know that of course” (136). I stuck to this exact style of writing because my focus wasn’t on retelling the story as much as it was telling the same exact story, just through the objectified female of the group’s perspective. That really was my main goal. To tell the exact story, in the same way, simply with Mysty’s inner dialogue as the main character instead of a supporting one.
My goal in this retelling was to focus all of the creative part on Mysty’s background and personal thoughts. In trying to address every issue the narrator of “Monstro” brought up about her, I attempted to seal up some open character assumptions about Mysty. We don’t get the answers in Diaz’s “Monstro” about her feelings for Alex or the narrator, I feel I answered that. In Diaz’s original work we never get to know if she was indeed abused by her dad, if you read my retelling closely enough, I’ve definitely answered that. We never get to understand why she stopped in the middle of kissing the narrator right before the big explosion in Haiti; hopefully I answered that also.
In Diaz’s story we get precise geographical explanations of the island surrounding them. We hear a lot from and about Alex’s dreams and aspirations. Yet through all of this detail, we still get a very flat explanation of Mysty, whom the narrator is completely obsessed with. This line perfectly describes any attempts at Diaz giving Mysty a real character in “Monstro:” “Dear dear Mysty. Beautiful and bitchy and couldn’t wait to be away from the D.R. A girl who didn’t let anyone push her around, who once grabbed a euro-chick by the hair because the bitch tried to cut her in line. Wasn’t really a deep person” (483). I find this almost offensive but an apt assumption on the part of an atypical nineteen year old boy, as the narrator is supposed to be in “Monstro”. To him she isn’t deep simply because of who she is, not because she is guarding herself or just isn’t interested in him. I wanted to make the case for the latter. She is apparently even the reason he stood in The Dominican Public to experience the catastrophic event in the first place, but she somehow wasn’t aware of enough to notice it? I felt this couldn’t and shouldn’t be true so I wanted to prove it somehow.
The only thing we don’t get throughout Diaz’s version of “Monstro,” especially in the final scenes I’ve redone, is Mysty’s perspective. I thought she deserved better than that. Her layers deserved a bit more dissection and definition instead of being summed up to a difficult, beautiful girl. Someone whose beauty is the only thing that stays with the narrator after the literal ending of the world, deserves a back story and narrative.
Adams, John Joseph, et al. “Monstro.” Wastelands 2: More Stories of the Apocalypse, Titan Books,
2016, pp. 471–492.
Gonzalez, Christopher. “Reading Junot Diaz,” University of Pittsburgh Press, 2015. ProQuest Ebook
Leyshon, Cressida. “This Week in Fiction: Junot Díaz.” The New Yorker, The New Yorker, 15 April