Friday, September 7, 2012

The Tortilla Curtain - T.C. Boyle

    1995; 355 pages.  New Author? : Yes.  Genre : Contemporary Fiction.  Overall Rating : 2*/10.

    The Tortilla Curtain is the story of two couples dwelling in the Topanga Canyon region of greater Los Angeles.  Delaney and Kyra Mossbacher are affluent whites living in the upscale enclave called Arroyo Blanco.  Candido Rincon and his wife, America, are illegal immigrants living out in the nearby desert.

    The book begins with Candido getting run over and seriously injured by Delaney in his posh Acura.  Things turn bad for Delaney after that.  Candido’s luck was already in the gutter.  

What’s To Like...
    The writing style is good.  Delany has studied French, and that’s always a plus.  If you happen to be a member of a Tea-Bagger Book Club (is there is such a thing?), this would be an excellent book for the group.

 What’s Not To Like...
    The Tortilla Curtain may be well-written, but it’s a lousy story.  The plot never advances – bad things just keep happening to our two couples, and that’s it.

     There is crass stereotyping of unbelievable proportions.   T.C. Boyle evidently hates anyone who isn’t white, and despises all those he deems “liberal” as well.  The entire Arroyo Blanco community is liberal.  How statistically incredible!  Every “liberal” cliché is used – relaxation tapes, sushi, Kyra having a hyphenated last name, etc.  Someone taught the author about 30 words and phrases in Spanish, and he uses them over and over again.  Huaraches, gabacho, bracero, pelirrojo.  Thank goodness there’s no sequel.

    The events of the book prey upon every wing-nut’s racial fears and prejudices.  There’s a pair of Mexican toughs that somehow manage to threaten and/or accost all four main characters in separate incidents.   You can tell it’s them because one of them wears a baseball cap backwards.

Kewlest New Word...
Crepitated : making a crackling or popping sound.

    It wasn't French he was speaking, that was for sure.  And it wasn't Norwegian.  The United States didn't share a two-thousand-mile border with France - or with Norway either.  The man was Mexican, Hispanic, that's what he was, and he was speaking Spanish, a hot, crazed drumroll of a language to which Delaney's four years of high-school French gave him little access.  "Docteur?" he tried.  (pg. 8)

    "I hate granola," Jordan countered, and it was like a Noh play, timeless ritual.
    "It's good for you."
    "Yeah, sure."  Jordan made an exaggerated slurping sound, sucking the milk through his teeth.
    "Think of all the little children who have nothing to eat," Kyra said without looking up, and Jordan, sticking to the script, came right back at her: "Let's send them this."  (pg. 35)

That was the American way.  Buy something.  Feel good.  (pg. 149)
    Here’s the gist of what T.C. Boyle postulates in The Tortilla Curtain :

(01) All Southern Californians are crazy.
(02) All rich Southern Californians are naïve, liberal-humanists.
(03) All liberal-humanists are racial hypocrites.  Scratch them and they’ll discover they are bigots, just like every other white person.
(04) Most illegal Mexicans in the US are evil.  They will harass white folks and assault other Hispanics.
(05) Some illegal Mexicans are good.  But they are dumb, dirt-poor, and will eventually steal you blind.
(06)  It would be better for everyone if all illegal Mexicans went home.  And stayed there.

    I kept waiting for T.C. Boyle to give The Tortilla Curtain a boffo twist by revealing it was all a spoof.  Or giving it a positive turn as two cultures meet, learn from, and embrace each other.  Heck, I would have been satisfied with a “here’s the tea-bagger solution” ending.  Alas, none of this happened.

    There’s really very little redeeming value to this book  2 Stars.

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