The Mutations

Jorge Comensal, trans. from the Spanish by Charlotte Whittle. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $25 (192p) ISBN 978-0-374-21653-5
Comensal’s punchy debut follows a group of physically and emotionally ailing characters in present-day Mexico City. Lawyer Ramon Martinez opens his mouth “like an angry baboon” to discover a painful lump. His whole tongue needs to be removed; his wife Carmela seems more worried about his children’s reactions than his pain, though she adopts his insomnia “in solidarity.” Psychoanalyst Teresa de la Vega, a breast cancer survivor, specializes in treating people with illnesses. One patient is Eduardo, a young man also very concerned with cancer, having had leukemia as a child. Teresa obsesses over Eduardo as Carmela does over her family. When Eduardo comes down with bronchitis, Teresa and the reader are compelled to wonder about the connection between neurosis and physical ailments. A quote from Susan Sontag’s Illness as Metaphor introduces the novel’s second half. Teresa, Eduardo, and Ramon and his family anchor the narrative, while Comensal folds in other, complementary plot threads. Ramon’s doctor, Joaquin Aldama, becomes passionately involved in the care of his terminal patient Lorena Galvan, but not so much in that of Luis Ramirez, who is fond of complex conspiracy theories about his illness. The novel gets its comic charge from blunt and colorful descriptions of emotional situations that in other fiction would dictate long and evocative passages (“The dream’s latent content represented the paradox of the jouissance of the Other.”). Sidestepping sentimentality and elaborate emotional expression, Comensal brings comic compassion to his treatment of contemporary neuroses. (Nov.)
Reviewed on : 08/27/2019
Release date: 11/12/2019
Genre: Fiction
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