FICTION

The Mutations

Farrar. Nov. 2019. 192p. ISBN 9780374216535. pap. $25; ; ebk.ISBN 9780374718824. F
COPY ISBN
DEBUT Diagnosed with cancer of the tongue, attorney Ramón Martínez undergoes a glossectomy, a terrible and symbolically ironic operation for one whose livelihood depends upon speaking. His postoperative life deals not only with his dysfunctional family (his wife Carmela and two children) as they cope with the loss of the breadwinner’s income but also with his obnoxious brother, who lends Ramón suspiciously earned money for the operation. A subplot involves the psychologist Teresa, herself a cancer survivor, who counsels the extremely neurotic Eduardo, a former leukemia patient. Thus the dominant theme of this smoothly translated novel is change, oncological as well as relational.
VERDICT In his first work, young Mexican writer Comensal creates markedly credible characters and instills a vein of humor with a cussing parrot and Ramón’s clueless and self-absorbed adolescent children. But this book remains a chilling reminder of the suffering, both physiological and psychological, that cancer patients and their families endure. For those who have cared for a cancer patient or have been victims themselves, it hits very close to home, reminding many that its gravity trumps humor.

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