Author: T. C. Boyle
Title: The Tortilla Curtain
Description: This book follows two families: a wealthy liberal dilettante who fancies himself an environmentalist, and a Mexican couple who came to the United States for the good life—or at least a better life than the one they had in Mexico. The book opens with a violent encounter: the liberal hits the immigrant with his (very nice) car. The human impact on the environment in Southern California is a central theme in this book; both the wealthy suburbanites who try to create a pristine enclave in the desert and the desperately poor immigrants who live off the land because they have to have a marked influence, both on the land and on one another.
Review source: Thanks, Penguin.
Plot: There really isn’t a plot so much as a problem (enunciated in the description). Two conflicting ways of life collide; how will that affect each of the families who are just trying to get by?
Characters: The Mexicans, Candido and America, are especially sympathetic characters. It’s so easy to understand how they want a better life and are willing to do almost anything to jump through the hoops they need to – but how do you even figure out what to do, when the instructions are in a foreign language? Delaney, the wealthy liberal, thinks he wants to help (the environment, the immigrants), until it makes him a little uncomfortable, when he quickly retreats to isolationist conservatism.
Writing style: Spare and emotionally wrenching.
Audience: Social commentary/literary fiction.
Wrap-up: This kind of book is tough to read; no one wants to be confronted by so many tough truths, and Boyle recognizes that there aren’t easy answers. 3.5/5*