The First Man


Meghan Flaherty in New Inquiry:

Adam in Eden is a novel about drug-trafficking that doesn’t talk about drug-traffickers. It is a novel about the Garden of Eden that hardly acknowledges God. It is a political novel free of rants and rhetoric. And it is a funny novel, with a sort of hidden poignancy: it makes you laugh until, upon closing it, you find yourself no longer laughing.

It is also the last published novel from the celebrated Mexican novelist Carlos Fuentes, a man who wrote almost exclusively about Mexico, but was once called into question for lacking a true Mexican identity. And inasmuch as all of his novels have been forays into the history of Mexico (one way or another),Adam in Eden goes the furthest, outlining in no uncertain terms the sociopolitical situation as he sees it: The country is corrupt, and only through corruption can its ills be healed. Fuentes himself called the book “novel-reportage” and “very journalistic.” Yet it reads like Vonnegut, the kind of satire-candy that bloodies gums.

The jokiness and nonchalance of tone can be a little irritating until the reader relaxes into Fuentes’s “ironic disposition.” This “paradoxical weapon” is what helps us process what the author decides we cannot deal with: truth and Mexico — or the truth about Mexico, at least Fuentes’s version of it. In lean (but often repetitive) prose, Fuentes details the commercial and domestic woes of Adam Gorozpe: prominent businessman, husband of a corpulent and flatulent ex-beauty queen, and lover of a mistress he calls L.Gorozpe is confronted with his double, a short and portly supervillain “with a face like a cooked ham” who has been put in charge of public security — “or what little remains of it.” Góngora makes love to Gorozpe’s wife and begins a reign of state-sponsored (in that he-is-the-state-and-so-can-sponsor-it) terror, imprisoning and killing at random, making arrests of innocents and small-time crooks in order to let the real bad guys, “the gang and cartel leaders, the gunrunners, and the criminals who extort and kidnap,” go free.

Adam in Eden is a portrait of a country imperiled, in which the sons of gardeners are murdered and housemaids slapped (all senselessly) to preserve an order that has given a very few possession of all the wealth, power, and pursuit of happiness. The result? “We have lost our faith in everything.”