The Tortilla Curtain

Middle-aged Candido Rincon and his pregnant, seventeen-year-old wife, America, illegally enter the United States because of the lack of work in Mexico, but adversity constantly hinders them. Rincon is struck by a car, beaten and robbed, and accidentally starts a brush fire that consumes their savings. America grows increasingly desperate and gives birth to their daughter in a makeshift hut.

Living high above the Rincons in a shiny new development are Delaney Mossbacher, a nature writer, and his second wife, Kyra, a real-estate agent. Kyra cares only for property values, making sales, her young son, and her pets. After her two dogs are taken off by coyotes, her cat disappears in the fire, and she has some tense encounters with Mexicans, Kyra wants a wall erected to protect Arroyo Blanco. Delaney is at first outraged at the racist motives of his wife and neighbors, but events soon also turn him against the invaders from the south.

T. Coraghessan Boyle explores similar conflicts between cultures in such earlier novels as WATER MUSIC (1982), WORLD’S END (1987), and EAST IS EAST (1990), but THE TORTILLA CURTAIN is not as stylish, satirical, or insightful as Boyle’s previous work. Taking John Steinbeck’s treatment of economic nomads in THE GRAPES OF WRATH (1939) as his model, Boyle reveals his compassion for the Rincons, but his ironic view of smug suburbanites is itself smug.

Still, Boyle is too good a writer to fail completely. The scenes of man in conflict with nature, during the fire and a subsequent mudslide, are powerful. As he shows in WORLD’S END in particular, Boyle is a master at exploring man’s tenuous hold on the civilization he has constructed in the face of ruthless natural forces.

Sources for Further Study

Kingsolver, Barbara. Review of The Tortilla Curtain. The Nation, September 25, 1995, 326-327.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. September 24, 1995, p. 4.

New Statesman and Society . VIII, November 10, 1995, p. 39.

New York. XXVIII, October 9, 1995, p. 85.

Rifkind, Donna. Review of The Tortilla Curtain. The Washington Post Book World, August 20, 1995, 3, 8.

San Francisco Chronicle. September 10, 1995, p. REV9.

Skow, John. Review of The Tortilla Curtain. Time, September 4, 1995, 68.

Spencer, Scott. Review of The Tortilla Curtain. The New York Times Book Review, September 3, 1995, 3.

The Times Literary Supplement. October 27, 1995, p. 25.