The Mutations

From the very first sentence comparing protagonist Ramón with an "angry baboon," Jorge Comensal's debut is a caustic yet strangely empathetic portrait of bourgeois and lower-class Mexicans in the grips of modernity. Ramón is a lawyer whose throat cancer costs him the ability to speak and his profession. Meanwhile, his family and caregivers grapple with their own problems. Comensal uses the bleak situation as grist for gleefully cynical tragicomedy. His characters have often hilarious neuroses, and a foul-mouthed parrot fits into the novel's scenery perfectly, but there is also real pathos in Ramón's collapse into despair and the inability of these characters to understand themselves.

The Mutations is not for readers sensitive to darker content. The narrative voice is close to the savagery of the later French crime novelists; it mocks the class structures and repressions that have warped middle-class Mexican society. Nevertheless, moments of grace abound for the subjects of this novel. The brutal, necessary ending is the culmination of that motif of brief serenity in a cruel universe.

But then at least that universe has created Comensal's work. This is a strong first novel (despite one ableist joke that feels like a cheap target) that carries readers with its unpredictability, the speed at which it tosses out blackly funny observations. Any bibliophile with a penchant for Pascal Garnier will like Comensal. He demonstrates a talent for dark comedy that hopefully will continue to be used in a world that may need it. --C.M. Crockford, freelance reviewer

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