Chapter 1 covers the period 1974–1987. The narrator introduces the reader to the hero of his story: Oscar de León. As an adult, Oscar never had much luck with women and hence was unlike “those Dominican cats everybody’s always going on about.” But in his younger years, he approached girls with confidence, earning him comparisons to a famously sexual Dominican named Porfirio Rubirosa.
Oscar’s “Golden Age” of romance reached its peak when he was seven years old and had two girlfriends at the same time: Maritza Chacón and Olga Polanco. Oscar’s mother wouldn’t allow Olga over to the house because she smelled. Oscar dumped Olga after a week, and soon after that, Maritza dumped Oscar for another classmate, Nelson Pardo.
After Maritza dumped him, Oscar’s life took a downward turn. He gained weight quickly over the next few years, then puberty splotched his face with zits. Increasingly dorky and shy, he became an outcast among his peers.
Oscar had a miserable high school experience at Don Bosco Tech, an urban all-boys Catholic school. Bespectacled, sporting the awkward trace of a mustache, and weighing in around 250 pounds, Oscar earned the title of the neighborhood parigüayo. The narrator defines this word in a footnote as a “party watcher.” The word comes from the American Marines stationed in the Dominican Republic during the 1916–1924 occupation who would stand at the edges of Dominican parties and just watch the revelers. Oscar’s obsession with science fiction, fantasy, and comic books—the “Genres”—cemented his outsider status. In a footnote, the narrator speculates that Oscar’s “outsize love of genre” may have been “a consequence of being Antillean.”
As his introversion deepened, Oscar harbored intense secret crushes that caused him great anguish and felt acute in comparison to other Dominican males, like his hyper-sexual uncle Rudolfo, who moved in with Oscar’s family. In contrast to Oscar, his sister Lola was practical, confident, and outgoing. She was a long-distance runner who didn’t take flak from anyone. She also cared for her brother and counseled him to exercise and change his appearance to avoid dying a virgin. He deflected her suggestions and persisted in his romantic frustrations, nurturing painful crushes on Lola’s friends.
By his senior year, Oscar had grown even heavier and more depressed. His only friends, Al and Miggs, started dating girls and gradually grew apart from him. That summer, Oscar and Lola’s mother sent them to Santo Domingo to visit their abuela (“grandmother”), La Inca. While Lola ran about the island with her friends, Oscar spent his time in La Inca’s house writing science fiction stories.