(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Action and characterization are much less important in Christopher Unborn than themes and linguistic games. The basic structure of the work, comprising the gestation of the title character from conception to birth, derives directly from Laurence Sterne’s eighteenth century novel The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy (1759-1767), to which Fuentes refers both directly and obliquely. Although the focus of the action is on the unborn Christopher, he participates in nothing except his uterine development, which he describes graphically and explicitly. He nevertheless frequently addresses the reader and also supplies information about other characters in flashbacks and glimpses of future events. Much of the language of the novel is deliberately obscure in the manner of James Joyce, combining humor and verbal acrobatics.

Satire, literary criticism, political denunciation, and philosophical reflection grow out of a fantasy framework. A young couple, Angel and Angeles, plan to have a male child born exactly at midnight on October 12, 1992, and to name him Christopher in order to win a government prize offered to celebrate the five hundredth anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in America. Their act of conception takes place on the beach at Acapulco; overhead, the corruption of the central government is signaled by Uncle Homero’s appearance in the sky in a parachute towed by a motor boat, his means of escaping from the destruction of the city then taking place—a disaster organized at Homero’s own suggestion.

From an ultra-conventional home environment honoring the great physicists and writers of the past, Angel drifts into the morass of contemporary politics, where he is confused and beguiled by his two uncles. The older, Benitez, cherishes leftist and democratic ideals but has no arena in which to express them. The younger, Homero, runs for office as a candidate of the dominant Revolutionary...

(The entire section is 799 words.)