by T.C. Boyle
Set in Southern California, The Tortilla Curtain tells the story of two couples from very disparate circumstances. One is white, well-to-do, living in a gated community, fretting over their safety and security. The other couple is desperately poor, illegal immigrants from Mexico trying to better their lives in this new country. The lives of the two couples intersect when the white guy accidentally hits the Mexican with his car, then just hands him twenty bucks as the injured man flees into the bushes, terrified of being taken to a doctor and then deported. Now unable to work, Candido holes up in the brush at the bottom of a canyon while his young pregnant wife struggles to find work. Everything seems stacked against them, and things just seem to go from bad to worse. Every time they manage to save a little money and hope for a decent place to live, something happens to wipe them out again. Meanwhile, the white couple are at odds with each other: the husband, a nature-lover, enjoys his free access to the hills straight from his backyard; his wife, paranoid about gangs and illegals stealing and spraying graffiti (not to mention her terror of the coyote that threatens her small dogs) is pushing to build a wall around the entire community. All sorts of issues roil around here, and none of the characters are portrayed as black-and-white; they all have their flaws, their sympathies. Even when I hated what the rich folks were doing, I could see why they felt the way they did. This book really packs a punch. Near the end I was smiling when something good finally happened to the poor couple but then everything suddenly spirals into disaster again. It leaves the reader kind of shocked at the end.
But finally, a good read! I simply could not put this one down. Every time a chapter ended I was anxious to continue its thread and find out what happened next. Especially with the Mexican characters. I felt so much more for them, horrified at the depravities they lived through, moved at the final scene which although terribly sad, illuminated the humanity and compassion Candido still had, even while the whole world (it seemed) trod him down.
Rating: 4/5 ........ 355 pages, 1995
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