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Literature / Eccentric Neighborhoods

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Eccentric Neighborhoods is a 1998 novel by Puerto Rican author Rosario Ferré. It is set in Puerto Rico from the late 19th century to the late 1970s.

Elvira Vernet is narrating the history of both branches of her family. On her maternal side, there's the Rivas de Santillana, the wealthy and cultured owners of a sugar plantation. And on her paternal side, there is the Vernet family, descended from Cuban immigrant Santiago ("Chaguito"), who slowly make their fortune from industry.

Tropes present in this novel

  • Adoption Is Not an Option: For Agripina and Damián, after they learn he is sterile. She is terrified an adopted child will have a birth defect.
  • The Atoner: Adela is horrified to find out that her sons are Freemasons like Chaguito, and starts doing more charity work to atone for their sins. She also tries to convince her daughters to become nuns.
  • Boxing Lesson: After being beaten up in school by his cousin, Alvaro takes some lessons and later fights back.
  • Cast Herd: There's a reason the novel opens with not one but two genealogical charts:
    • Alvaro Rivas de Santillana and Valeria Boffil and their children: Clarissa (Elvira's mother), Siglinda, Dido, Artemisa, Lakhmé and Alejandro.
    • Santiago Vernet and Adela Pasamontes and their children: Ulises, Aurelio (Elvira's father), Roque, Damián, Celia, and Amparo.
      • And of course, most of the children have families of their own.
  • Driven to Suicide: Enrique and Roque. Blanca de Montenegro, after a priest refuses to baptize her son (born out of wedlock) or administer Confession.
  • Elder Abuse: When Chaguito becomes ill, everybody is relieved because his second wife, Brunhilda, is trained as a nurse. However, at nights, when it's time to bring him his bedpan, she tells him to hurry up so she can go back to bed, and pinches him in the arms to make him hurry up.
  • Ethnic Menial Labor: Clarissa cannot find household help locally (she is a Mean Boss and there are better job opportunities out there). She hires a Guatemalan woman through an agency, but it does not occur to her that Xochil might be indigenous and is floored at the sight of her in traditional Mayan dress.
  • Family Business: First, Vernet Construction, then Star Cement.
  • Gentle Giant: How Chaguito sees Adela. Until she finally loses her patience with his careless spending. After that, he learns to get out of her way.
  • Mean Boss: Clarissa treats the household help so poorly that nobody stays long. Her reputation spreads so far that she simply can't find help in the poor neighborhoods like she used to, and has to resort to hiring a woman from Guatemala.
  • My Beloved Smother: Clarissa toward Elvira. She forbids Elvira from enrolling in French immersion courses and living in a boarding house like her brother did, right after her husband gave permission. They don't tell her until the last minute.
  • No Historical Figures Were Harmed: One whole chapter is dedicated to Chaguito's architect friend Alfredo Wiechers.
  • Odd Name Out: The Rivas de Santillana girls have names inspired by mythology and literature. However, Don Alvaro and Valeria name their only son after Alexander the Great.
  • Secret Other Family: Despairing after his son Enrique's death, Roque starts a relationship with Titiba Menéndez, the seamstress who adjusts his shirts. Nobody finds out about them or their three sons until his funeral.
  • Shed the Family Name: Downplayed. Clotilde, Roque's wife, has their sons use both her husband's and her last name together, Vernet Rosales, to set herself and them apart from the rest of the Vernets.
  • Successful Sibling Syndrome: Roque feels left out because Ulises and Aurelio are the ones making all the decisions at Star Cement.
  • The Unfavorite:
    • Elvira, compared to her brother Álvaro.
    • Venecia (Ulises's second wife) often compares her daughter Catalina unfavorably to Elvira, to the latter's chagrin.
    • After Adela dies, having put Aurelio in charge of the family, Ulises feels like this.