Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Tortilla Curtain by T.C. Boyle

A friend of mine was assigned The Tortilla Curtain by T.C. Boyle in his modern American literature class, and I thought it looked interesting so I decided to read it too.

I have to admit, actually, that I'm a bit contrary: My friend had read it a while back and said he hated it the first time around, and all of his classmates were complaining on their forum posts, so of course that all made me want to read it.  (It turned out my friend liked it this time around, but his classmates still did not.)

I don't know what exactly I was expecting when I went into this, but I wasn't expecting what I got, probably because everyone was complaining about it.  One of the biggest complaints about the book was that it had a rape scene -- I was actually surprised at how indignant the students were about this, especially when I reached the scene and discovered that it wasn't graphic at all, but rather the fade-to-black variety.

I thought it was interesting how the author drew parallels between the way people in this wealthy, remote desert enclave treated dangerous wildlife, such as coyotes, and Mexicans.  The story continually pointed out the ludicrousness of having moved out into the country, presumably to be closer to nature, and then trying to control or beat back nature.  The implication is that more or less the same thing is going on with Americans and Mexicans.

I also felt like the main white character's changing attitudes about the coyotes was being used to illustrate how people who have good intentions and don't want to be racist end up justifying their learned dislike of Mexicans.

Other than the social implications, I thought the book was compelling but rather sad.  Following the parallel stories of a white wealthy family and a poor Mexican family of illegal immigrants demonstrated how the same situations were minor setbacks to one and devastating to the other.  For example, both women had run-ins with the rapist, but because one was white and wealthy and entitled, she was able to avoid the fate of the poor Mexican woman.

While I liked the book, I did feel that the ending only loosely tied things up, at the same time as it threw a fresh tragedy into the mix (one that wasn't resolved, or really even dealt with).  A good ending to me is important to my opinion of a book, so I did struggle somewhat with this.  It was still a good, and in many ways eye-opening, book, though, so if you find yourself assigned to read it for a class -- or even if you are just reading it on your own -- I hope you will find it as compelling as I did!

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