Our book club book this month was the Tortilla Curtain by T.C. Boyle. I wasn’t going to write about it because I really did not enjoy reading it, but we had an excellent discussion of the book last Tuesday night so I think I’ll summarize what was discussed and how it changed my view of the book. I’ll be interested in other people’s views of the book too.
The book is about a liberal couple, Delaney and Kyra Mossbacher, and an illegal immigrant Mexican couple Candido and America Rincon. Both couples live in Topanga Canyon near Los Angeles. The book contrasts their lives. Boyle is a very talented writer. I have a very clear mental picture of the people and places in the book. His descriptions and language are what someone called transparent. You don’t notice the language it just paints the picture for you.
Boyle also uses a lot of symbolism. Tortilla Curtain does make you think about illegal immigration and all its complexities. I can see why it is apparently a very popular book to study in High School.
Tortilla Curtain is very obviously intended to be like Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath. In fact it makes me want to read Grapes of Wrath again because I remember that although both books are disturbing I could appreciate Grapes of Wrath and Tortilla Curtain just annoyed me. I’m not sure why Grapes of Wrath works for me and Tortilla Curtain doesn’t.
One thing that really bugs me about Tortilla Curtain is that nothing good happens to the Rincons. Candido is hit by a car and later mugged. America is exposed to harmful chemicals by the one person who hires her and then raped by someone else on the way home. They have a blind baby. They start a wild fire. They are caught in a mud slide. Every time Duke asked me how the book was coming I had one more calamity to report. If some one writes a book and the plot contains only good things the book is considered ridiculous but when only bad things happen as they do in Tortilla Curtain it is apparently OK. It reminded me of the book A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry because nothing good happened in that book either. Yuck!
What the book club discussion helped me realize is that Boyle apparently enjoys shocking people and Tortilla curtaian should perhaps be seen as fable or satire. It didn’t help me like the book but it made me realize that maybe it does succeed in what it is trying to achieve.