The Mortifications - Derek Palacio
Starting with a family in the middle of a meltdown, The Mortifications (Tim Duggan, $27) charts a contemporary odyssey. Set in the early 1980s, Derek Palacio’s remarkable debut novel starts with a Cuban mother and her twins fleeing their home as part of the Mariel boat-lift. Soledad leaves the children’s father behind; still committed to the revolution, he has little to live on but his ideals. The narrative, at least at first, focuses on the emigrants’ life in Connecticut, though Cuba is never far from the characters’ minds, and gradually gains full depth and color. But the novel is most impressive for Palacio’s keen psychological insight. With a rare emotional intuition, he reveals his characters’ deepest motivations in ways so clear and sharp, it’s almost shocking how far he can see. Yet these motives make complete sense, as you realize when one twin, Ulises, takes up the life of a tobacco farmer, and the other, Isabel, pursues a life of spirituality. Via these different paths, the family eventually travels full-circle, returning to Cuba, but, as is the way of myth, undergoing a metamorphosis in the process.