It would be very difficult to summarize the relationship with home better than Vivian Gornick: “If you don’t leave home you suffocate, if you go too far you lack oxygen.” But in his highly recommended last novel, The only child (Anagram), Guadalupe Nettel manages to explain the breadth of meanings that the concept of home can have from the description of unconscious gestures that accommodate or bother someone inside a home, noting seemingly insignificant details – such as a ham and cheese sandwich that it feels like a protective handle— or narrating the evolution of unexpected coexistence. Without directly addressing this issue, treating it as the framework that is always a home, the novel reflects how the idea of home as dwelling has changed and how much of that change has to do with our mental breadth to understand what a family or a family can be. home.
The book collects four parallel stories. That of Laura, the narrator-writer, in her new apartment, where she watches daily how the pigeons rebuild a nest on her terrace. There he learns what laying parasitism is: birds – such as the cuckoo – that lay their eggs in other people’s nests, sharing “the biological impulse to reproduce and at the same time a need to avoid rearing tasks.” The story of her friend Alina, who goes from not wanting to have children to rethinking what motherhood is on a daily basis, discovers how living from day to day helps her lose fear and, once lost, that decision alters the composition of the house. A third story is that of his neighbors, Nico and his mother Doris, who make up a home even though they have to live far away. Finally, the fourth story follows the adventures of her mother, who discovers in a group of women the vital learning that she could never have made her own based on the experience, or the insistence, of her daughter. We are that way.
At that mother’s house, the answering machine responds: “You are talking to the Ruvalcaba family’s house. At this moment we cannot answer you “, as if I had not lived alone for more than 10 years.”
The narrator’s own apartment becomes a foster home for a child who has been in trouble for as long as he can remember. And that his head is inhabited by the screams of an absent father. That little neighbor spends the day there, however, he goes back to his apartment — dirty, messy, and unhinged — to go to the bathroom. With such subtle information, one understands that a house can be a snack: the maternal care that the narrator is able to offer the boy consists of cookies, ham and butter sandwiches or bowls of chocolate milk.
In her daughter Inés’s room, Alina discovers “how permeable motherhood has always been”. Also that “blood ties are not a guarantee of anything” and, finally, that “nothing we build lasts forever.”
But beyond the dwellings, the harshest architectural portraits in the book appear when Nettel describes public spaces. It happens when they are real: medical consultations furnished by the patience or impatience of doctors and by the loneliness of patients in the face of contradictory diagnoses. Also when those places are virtual: “Facebook is a site where people usually put the best aspect of themselves, their best profiles, their best smiles, their achievements at work, many days in the field and many vacations, a network designed for self-promotion and promotion. Nobody usually posts their crises, their failures or the extra kilos. Few speak of their illnesses, and when they do they are optimistic before others to attract words of admiration and encouragement ”. However, it is precisely on Facebook where Alina finds a group in which, like her, “they had all been told that their children would die at birth”. All that loneliness, and that union, parades through the book of this 21st century writer who, entering the houses, delves into the lives of others and walking through the city notices how markets, parks or hospitals reflect our fears, our hope, our future and our ability, little or much, to rethink places. Nettel herself did that as a child. He gives an account of it in his autobiographical novel The body in which I was born when he describes a tree that was “both a challenge and a shelter”. “It was a refuge where you didn’t have to hunch your back to feel safe. At that time I had the constant need to defend myself from my surroundings (…) It was as if I had decided to build an alternative geography, a secret territory through which to walk at ease without being seen ”.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.