Carlos Fuentes Essay - Fuentes, Carlos (Vol. 3)

Fuentes, Carlos (Vol. 3)

Fuentes, Carlos 1928–

Fuentes is a Mexican novelist.

A … complex example of the twofold structural procedure of fragmentation and reconstruction is found in Carlos Fuentes' novel, Change of Skin (Cambio de piel)…. Change of Skin is an assemblage of elements that have been combined into an extremely complicated composition. The temporal and spatial relationships of Change of Skin are … comprehensive … and … ambitious insofar as the book's structure posits within itself the possibility of freedom from the evident irreversibility of time.

At a first appraisal, Change of Skin appears to be divided into three parts: a conventional prologue, a body, and an epilogue. [In the] rather short opening portion … Cortes' conquest of Mexico … is counterpointed against the novel's present action in the Aztecs' sacred city of Cholula. Fuentes recounts Cortes' passages in the present tense and the ostensibly present action in the past tense, thus indicating that the past is quite as alive, perhaps more vivid and pulsating than is the present. Finally, these pages introduce the Monks (Los Monjes), the group of kids, hippies perhaps, who eventually become interchangeable with the four protagonists: Elizabeth, Javier, Isabel, and Franz.

The novel proper, the center portion, occupies pages 25 to 364. The elements of this part display discontinuity in structural terms and constitute violations of logic on several levels. The time is a night near Easter; the settings, two rooms in a shabby hotel in Cholula. Radiating around this center are various other spatial and temporal realities embodied in memories and daydreams. Three other "worlds," or spatial-temporal realities, are introduced in the guise of flashbacks to the childhoods of Elizabeth …, of Javier …, and of Franz…. The characters change places, as the two women occasionally are being interrogated by the narrator, who gradually assumes the identity in these scenes of the two men. Another dimension of identity is added by virtue of the fact that Elizabeth and Franz are sometimes together, making love and exchanging confessions and dreams, while Isabel and Javier torment each other with ridicule, with accusations, and with perverse embraces. Finally, overlaid upon all of these relationships are others in the form of the perspectives that are suggested by reprinted passages from newspapers, tourist pamphlets, lists of various sorts, song lyrics, passages from Javier's notebook, a lengthy analysis of Brahms's German Requiem, and those short addresses that are delivered by the narrator to Elizabeth. From this apparent mess, as from life itself, emerge several themes: the failure of love, the difficulty of achieving creation, the universality of guilt, and the equally universal need for forgiveness. The multiple perspectives which Fuentes employs tend to establish the universality of these themes by placing them in a variety of contexts that are spatially—and therefore temporally—far from one another.

The book's concluding portion elevates the "action" to a transcendental plane. Its wild events tend to render time reversible…. Time can be turned back. One can change his skin. The structure of Change of Skin shows how the architectonic procedure of construction can be used to endow ordinary actions with metaphysical significance by condensing into all times and places the same message and by demonstrating that time can, after all, be made to roll backward.

The ornate texture and the mass of times and places spinning off from this one night in Cholula endow Change of Skin with an air of tremendous nervous activity that suggests motion. Nothing, it seems, is fixed. The characters have multiple identities. There is more than one version of every major action. The novel's ambitious open structure subsumes several traditional boundaries: that between past and present; that between one person's intimate secrets and another's knowing curiosity; those limitations of perception that separate from one another any individual's several identities; the line that is conventionally maintained between the work of art and life itself; the demarcations that supposedly exist between dreams and reality and fantasy and action; and, finally, the distinction between supernatural power and the mundane events of daily routine. The power of the supernatural explodes in the third part of Change of Skin and brings about "miracles." Still, in spite of the novel's power of internal combustion and its impression of nervous thrust and pulsating tension, it is a stable construct. The three parts of Fuentes' book are clearly not interchangeable, for the prologue and the epilogue definitely circumscribe the materials of the center portion—the novel per se—between historical and supernatural perspectives. Moreover, everything proceeds toward the third part: the exorcism.

Sharon Spencer, in her Space, Time and Structure in the Modern Novel (reprinted by permission of New York University Press; copyright © 1971 by New York University), New York University Press, 1971, pp. 178-81.