National Book Award finalist Rosario Ferre’s fourth novel, ECCENTRIC NEIGHBORHOODS, captures the lives of two prominent Puerto Rican families, the Rivas de Santillanas and Vernets, over the first half of the twentieth century. The writer uses both realism and fantasy to portray the broad sweep of Puerto Rico’s economic and political conflicts in those years, as well as the impact of that history on individual lives.
Ferre’s narrator, Elvira Vernet, is a Rivas de Santillana through her mother and a Vernet through her father. The Rivas de Santillana family has inherited wealth rooted in the nineteenth century plantation agriculture. The Vernet family earns wealth through its cement business.
Elvira tells the stories of her foremothers and forefathers through three generations. Each character is richly realized but the women characters are more compelling. While Puerto Rican culture traditionally confined women to the domestic sphere, the female members of the Rivas de Santallilnas and Vernet families make the most of their limited opportunities for education and fulfillment. Also, women’s relationships with other women, mothers, friends, and sisters, are presented in a voice that is insightful, sympathetic, and amused. Indeed, as the novel ends the reader understands that Elvira will bring to fruition the seeds of feminism planted by her foremothers.
Ferre illuminates Puerto Rico and the lives of its women in an important period of history.