Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Distant Relations can be read on several levels—as a mystery, as a fantasy or metaphysical speculation, as an essay about the literary and historical relationship between the Old World and the New. The archaeologist Hugo Heredia says at one point: “If you want me to summarize the most profound lesson of Mexican antiquity, it is this: all things are related, nothing is isolated; all things are accompanied by the totality of their spatial, temporal, physical, oneiric, visible and invisible attributes.” In looking at French culture and history in relation to Spanish America, Fuentes shows a desire to find equilibrium and balance—in the perfect spherical object from Xochicalco, in the phantom presence that lives beside us, and in the order and reason that Branly tries to bring to the telling of his story. Yet this sense of balance seems to elude him: The story remains incomplete, and the symmetry of the Mexican temples is the “fearful symmetry of [William] Blake’s tiger in the night.”

This preoccupation with memory and inheritance animates all of Fuentes’s works. In elaborating a genealogy of the New World, Fuentes struggles to discover how the past determines the identity of a nation. The uneasy and often violent legacy of the New World is a difficult one with which to come to terms.