Monday, May 9, 2011

The Tortilla Curtain, by T.C. Boyle

Monday, June 6, 1 p.m.

Leader: Edna Ritzenberg

Reserve your copy of The Tortilla Curtain on ALIScat

 Reviews from the Novelist database:

PEN/Faulkner award winner and author of various novels, including The Road to Wellville (1993), Boyle avoids any potential pitfall of his prior achievement by veering in another direction and seriously examining social and political issues in this timely novel. He establishes an obvious dichotomy by interweaving the scrapping, makeshift, in-the-present lives of illegal aliens Candido and America Rincon with the politically correct, suburban, plan-for-the-future existence of wealthy Americans Delaney and Kyra Mossbacher. The Rincons' lives, though full of fear and hardship, contain far more passion and endurance than the Mossbachers' mundane and materialistic lifestyles. An initial, pivotal car accident briefly unites, and ultimately separates, Delaney and Candido, provoking question after question concerning immigration, unemployment, discrimination, and social responsibility. Surprisingly, Boyle manages to address these issues in a nonjudgmental fashion, depicting the vast inequity in these parallel existences. This highly engaging story subtly plays on our consciences, forcing us to form, confirm, or dispute social, political, and moral viewpoints. This is a profound and tragic tale, one that exposes not only a failed American Dream, but a failing America. ((Reviewed June 1 & 15, 1995)) -- Janet St. John
Magill Book Review:
Magill Book Review: Middle-aged Candido Rincon and his pregnant, seventeen-year-old wife, America, illegally enter the United States because of the lack of work in Mexico, but adversity constantly hinders them. Rincon is struck by a car, beaten and robbed, and accidentally starts a brush fire that consumes their savings. America grows increasingly desperate and gives birth to their daughter in a makeshift hut. Living high above the Rincons in a shiny new development are Delaney Mossbacher, a nature writer, and his second wife, Kyra, a real-estate agent. Kyra cares only for property values, making sales, her young son, and her pets. After her two dogs are taken off by coyotes, her cat disappears in the fire, and she has some tense encounters with Mexicans, Kyra wants a wall erected to protect Arroyo Blanco. Delaney is at first outraged at the racist motives of his wife and neighbors, but events soon also turn him against the invaders from the south. T. Coraghessan Boyle explores similar conflicts between cultures in such earlier novels as Water Music (1982), World's End (1987), and East is East (1990), but The Tortilla Curtain is not as stylish, satirical, or insightful as Boyle's previous work. Taking John Steinbeck's treatment of economic nomads in The Grapes of Wrath (1939) as his model, Boyle reveals his compassion for the Rincons, but his ironic view of smug suburbanites is itself smug. Still, Boyle is too good a writer to fail completely. The scenes of man in conflict with nature, during the fire and a subsequent mudslide, are powerful. As he shows in World's End in particular, Boyle is a master at exploring man's tenuous hold on the civilization he has constructed in the face of ruthless natural forces. -- Essay by Michael Adams.
Publishers Weekly:
Boyle's latest concerns two couples in Southern California--one a pair of wealthy suburbanites, the other illegal immigrants from Mexico. (Sept.)
Library Journal:
Go tell it in the valley: Boyle's newest novel is, according to the publicist, "a timely, provocative account" of immigration in central California. With a 100,000-copy first printing and a 25-city tour, you know the publisher expects this book to be big.
The inestimably gifted Boyle (The Road to Wellville, 1993, etc.) puts on a preacher's gown and mounts the pulpit to proclaim a hellfire sermon against bigotry and greed--in this rather wan updating of The Grapes of Wrath. If Boyle is to be believed, Los Angeles County has gradually evolved into a kind of minimum-security prison, with the prosperous Anglos living in fear of their lives behind the walls of their suburban security compounds. Delaney and Kyra Mossbacher moved as far from the city as they could, and settled in a tastefully "authentic" tract development just above Topanga Canyon. Au courant to a fault, Kyra brings home the bacon as a hot-shot real estate agent, while Delaney stands in as Mr. Mom--cooking their lowfat meals, seeing after their pets and their son, and writing a monthly column for a nature magazine. Below them, in the Canyon itself, Candido and America Ricon have crossed the Mexican border illegally and seek refuge of their own in the makeshift camp they've erected. Candido meets Delaney at the beginning of the story when Delaney runs him down with his car, and this pretty much establishes the tone of their relations throughout. Candido, as hapless as his namesake in Voltaire, wants only to work and look after his pregnant wife, but he's thwarted on every side by an exasperated white society with no room for him. Implausible circumstances keep bringing Delaney and Candido back to each other, and the tension that builds between them becomes an image of the ferocity that smolders within the city around them--exploding in an apocalyptic climax that combines a brushfire and a riot, with an earthquake thrown in for good measure. A morality play too obvious to be swallowed whole: Boyle's first real lemon so far. (Kirkus Reviews, August 15, 1995) Further information: