Critical Context

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

A Change of Skin is most noteworthy as Fuentes’s best-known attempt to create an antinovel, a novel diametrically opposed to the traditional realistic novel. Everything about the novel points to its artifice, to its existence as a pure literary fiction with no relationship to the “real world.” The novel’s almost complete chronological disjunction is one obvious mark of artifice. Fuentes’s exaggerated use of flashbacks and disjointed narrative sequences continually reminds the reader that what he is reading is a “story”—an artful, fictional construct which does not in any way attempt to imitate the normal, chronological flow of events. The narrative jumps back and forth, mixing what seem to be factual accounts of Franz’s youth in Czechoslovakia with accounts of Javier’s youth in Mexico, Elizabeth’s childhood in New York, and events of their married life. Yet these “facts” are often impossible to distinguish from the “fictions” of the characters’ imaginings or the pseudofacts of the newspaper accounts that are seemingly arbitrarily interpolated.

The shifting posture of the novel’s narrator and the doubling of its characters are, as has been noted, still other ways in which Fuentes deliberately points out the total artificiality, the total fictitiousness of his tale. The two alternate endings are simply the ultimate rhetorical exaggeration and constitute the final parody of rhetorical technique and subversion of the mimetic principle. The reader is left with a sort of fictional model kit providing him with a number of possible characters, motifs, narrators and endings which he must structure in order to create his own version of the novel. It is finally this demand that the reader become creator/author that distinguishes A Change of Skin and makes it one of the most daring of the “new novels” of contemporary fiction.