THE MUTATIONS by Jorge Comensal


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Cancer takes center stage in this quietly powerful first novel by Mexican writer Comensal.

Ramón Martínez lives a bourgeois life as a Mexico City lawyer, with a wife, Carmela, and two teenage children, Mateo and Paulina, and “their respective hobbies of masturbation and karaoke.” Then comes a day when his tongue is so sore that he can’t eat the pork torta he’s just ordered, followed by a couple of weeks of inconclusive hemming and hawing until his doctor sends him to see an oncologist. It’s cancer—cancer of the tongue, requiring the offending organ to be removed. Ramón’s success depends on his silvery orations in the courtroom, and he’s left with the dreadful prospect of a life of silence, punctuated by fierce arguments with a lawyer brother, Ernesto, who loans him enough money for the operation but demands Ramón and Carmela’s home as collateral. Ernesto is as grasping as cancer is obdurate, but he’s just one element of the existential chaos that surrounds Ramón as he grapples with the terrible disease. Other characters bear their own burdens: One, Eduardo, a support-group denizen, having lived through childhood cancer, now fears all things white; as Comensal writes, “In Eduardo’s case, the essence of the Lacanian Other was the danger that lay in wait, the invasion of the leukemia that threatened to poison his blood with whiteness—with abnormal cells that were, precisely, white.” The mutations in Ramón’s body lead to mutations in his life, some introduced by his God-fearing maid, Elodia, who brings a parrot to Ramón as a gift, a parrot with gifts of profanity The bird voices Ramón’s mood perfectly as he undergoes treatment, even as the lives of everyone around him change in sometimes unexpected ways, adding clamor to his voicelessness.

An assured debut by a writer from whom readers will want to hear more, and soon.

Pub Date: Nov. 12th, 2019
ISBN: 978-0-374-21653-5
Page count: 192pp
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 2019