Each of the major characters in Distant Relations carries the burden of representing an era, a nationality, or an attitude toward the past. Rather than shy away from this symbolic tendency, Fuentes indulges it by letting the characters make elegant pronouncements about themselves and one another. Distant Relations is as much a work of cultural criticism as it is a gothic fantasy, and the reader never forgets that the conversation he is reading takes place in Paris between two cultured and erudite men enjoying a leisurely lunch.
The Comte de Branly is responsible for the encyclopedic quality and tone of the novel. Knowledgeable in literature, painting, film, and music, he represents the high achievements of French culture, with its emphasis on order, reason, and refined manners. When he recites the poem by Supervielle, he is “exercising the supreme gift of selection, synthesis, and consecration that France has reserved for herself through the centuries.” Although he traces his family back nine centuries, his father’s early death cut him off from his immediate past, and he identifies himself more with twentieth century culture than with the French historical tradition.
Hugo Heredia is a more complex character. Branly sees him, a Mexican whose family goes back to the sixteenth century, at first as a universal man of the century of the founding of the New World. His arrogance, however, reveals the presence of a patriarchal...
(The entire section is 493 words.)