Whether finding home or building a home or leaving home, fiction frequently centers on belonging—what it means and how it moves us. In Neruda on the Park, the debut novel from Cleyvis Natera, the Guerrero family struggles with belonging not just in their New York City neighborhood but also to each other.
When a decrepit building in Northar Park is torn down to make way for luxury condos, the Guerreros and their neighbors are forced to confront the realities of the price-raising, whitewashing menace that is gentrification. But for Lux, the daughter of Eusebia and Vladimir Guerrero, the changes are both external and internal: After being fired from her cutthroat legal job, Lux realizes that she has transformed along with the neighborhood, and perhaps not for the better.
The novel is split into three parts—titled Demolition, Excavation and Grounding—and unfolds through the perspectives of Lux and her mother, Eusebia, showing not only how the evolution of Northar Park is linked to the evolution of the Guerreros, but also how the discourse of belonging is fraught with generational conflict. Eusebia and Vladimir left the Dominican Republic to give their children a better life, including law school and high-paying corporate jobs. But Luz falls in love with the man who’s developing Northar Park, which causes a divide between where she comes from and where she’s going, and directly links her choices to the destruction of the home that her parents have created.
Natera’s writing style is detailed and intimate but leaves plenty to the imagination. The mother-daughter dynamic propels the novel and creates its dramatic tension, but Natera also includes interludes from the Tongues, the blabbermouth neighborhood chismosas, or gossips, who hear everything and know everything. Through these voices, Natera’s depiction of Northar Park becomes lively and vibrant, which brings the reader back to the novel’s central focus: home. As the Guerreros’ dreams shift—Lux desires an Upper West Side apartment, and Vladimir hopes for a new house in the Dominican Republic—the reader is encouraged to ask what home really is. Is it a place? A peace? Neruda on the Park doesn’t give answers but rather lets the reader and the Guerrero family decide for themselves.