The Tortilla Curtain is on my list of favorite ten fiction books. I don’t know if favorite is quite the right word to describe how I feel about this book. It’s a book that people seem to love or hate. In this book T. C. Boyle addresses race, poverty, illegal immigrants, and suburban lifestyles. No one comes out looking good.
Kyra and Delaney are the suburban couple portrayed. She is a realtor and he is a nature writer. It is a second marriage for both of them and Kyra has a six year old son named Jordan. They live in a suburban development called Arroyo Blanco and during the course of the book the homeowner’s association debates putting in a gate as well as a stucco wall around the entire community to protect the homeowners. The couple has a car stolen and loses two dogs to coyotes, yet it is hard to feel any sympathy for them.
Delaney struggles with his liberal tendencies versus what he feels are his rights. Here he listens as a teenager in his community makes a racist joke:
“This was Jack’s kid. A kid who should know better, a kid with all the advantages, raised right here in Arroyo Blanco. … But then, maybe that was the problem, and his next thought was for Jordan: was that the way he was going to turn out? He knew the answer before he’d formulated the question. Of course it was, and there was nothing Kyra or Delaney or anybody else could do about it. That’s what he’d tried to tell Kyra over this wall business – it might keep them out, but look what it keeps in.”
The story is also told from the viewpoints of a second couple. Cándido and América are from Mexico and are in the US illegally. The hardships that they face are incredible and must be somewhat exaggerated, otherwise I can’t imagine why anyone would want to be in the US illegally. América is young and pregnant and Cándido struggles to find any work at all. They camp in a canyon near Arroyo Blanco.
Cándido feels haunted by bad luck. Here he reflects after they’ve just escaped from a wildfire caused by their campfire:
“Cándido didn’t know what the next day would bring, but as he looked down into the darkened canyon he felt awed by the enormity of his bad luck, stunned by the chain of events that had led from the windfall of the turkey and the simple joy of the campfire to this nightmare of flames and smoke and airplanes that exploded across the sky. Had he really been the cause of all this?”
Their luck continues to worsen.
The two couples’ lives intersect multiple times and in unpleasant ways for all parties leading up to a final confrontation. T. C. Boyle offers no answers to the issue of illegal immigration, but he’ll make you think.
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