The power of music, and the passions aroused by the artistic impulse, are given inexplicably murky expression in this very odd, somewhat disappointing latest from Fuentes (The Years with Laura Díaz, 2000, etc.).
The first of two juxtaposed narratives (and, thankfully, the longer) charts the turbulent relationship between French symphony conductor Gabriel Atlan-Ferrara and Mexican diva “Inez Prada” (née Inés Rosenzweig), who first meet when she blithely disrupts his preparations for a London appearance. Over the years, they collaborate as “lovers with a dual dynamic in bed and onstage,” but remain essentially apart, she drifting in and out of love and marriage, he dancing to the tunes composed by memories of a lost “brother companion” (his physical and temperamental opposite) and the horrors of the Holocaust, which he schemes to incorporate into performances of Berlioz’s The Damnation of Faust. Whenever Gabriel and Inez meet, there are sure to be portentous observations about the nature and meaning of music, art, and love—but these are David Mamet–like nuggets of colloquialism compared with the parallel story of “the first” man and woman on earth, a morbidly ingenuous pair of cavedwellers and deer hunters whose musings sound like a Jean Auel potboiler entrusted to the editorship of C.P. Snow. There is the seed of a compelling story here, in the perspective of the 93-year-old maestro looking backward on a life defined by artistic and personal strategies and compromises—but, for whatever reason, Fuentes didn’t write that novel.
“What was there between them,” Fuentes’s narrator asks, “that thwarted the continuation of what had been and prevented the occurrence of what never was?” If that makes sense to you, you’ll probably enjoy Inez.