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Thread: Boyle, T.C. "The Tortilla Curtain"

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    Boyle, T.C. "The Tortilla Curtain"

    Although I have only started reading this novel I am instantly sucked into the contrasting 'American Dream' that these individuals are trying to experience. What is your opinion of the morals that show between Delaney and Candido as they relate to the ideal lifestyle and wishes of their own American Dream? Which side of these lifestyle goals do you agree with most? Do you have any quotes that jump out at you in response the the American Dream motif?

    Quotes from Chapter's 1 and 2:

    "What good was he? He'd taken America from her father so they could have a better life, so they could live in the North, where it was green and lush the year round and the avocados rotted on the ground, and everyone, even the poorest, had a house, a car, and a TV--- and now he couldn't even put food in her mouth." (PAGE 26)

    "... he vowed he'd never let America out of his sight if he could help it, not till they had a real house in a real neighborhood with laws and respect and human dignity." (PAGE 27)

    ------------------

    "Jordan was six years old, dedicated to Nintendo, superheroes and baseball cards, though as far as Delaney could see he had no interest whatever in the game of baseball beyond possessing the glossy cardboard images of the players." (PAGE 34)

    "He and Kyra had a lot in common, not only temperamentally, but in terms of their beliefs and ideals too---that was what had attracted them to each other in the first place. They were both perfectionists, for one thing. They abhorred clutter. They were joggers, nonsmokers, social drinkers, and if not full-blown vegetarians, people who were conscious of their intake of animal fats. Their memberships included the Sierra Club, Save the Children, the National Wildlife Federation and the Democratic Party. They preferred the contemporary look to Early American of kitsch. In religious matters, they were agnostic." (PAGE 35)

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    I haven't noticed TCB mentioned before on this site (Maybe he has been). I like his writing very much. I find his narrative gifts and wide range of characterisation very entertaining and thoughtful. He is a satirist: sometimes outrageously comic, sometimes subtle. Not being from there I'm not going to comment on "The American Dream" - to me a rather odd concept that doesn't seem particularly American.

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    Quote Originally Posted by ennison View Post
    I haven't noticed TCB mentioned before on this site (Maybe he has been). I like his writing very much. I find his narrative gifts and wide range of characterisation very entertaining and thoughtful. He is a satirist: sometimes outrageously comic, sometimes subtle. Not being from there I'm not going to comment on "The American Dream" - to me a rather odd concept that doesn't seem particularly American.

    I am enjoying his writing very much, this is the first novel of his that I have come into contact with! Just out of curiosity could I have you explain why the concept of the 'American Dream' is not American? I have always thought of it as an ever changing view of reality, the hopes of an individual pertaining to a larger image. I suppose the 'American Dream' comes up a lot certain literature(American, haha) but it is ever evolving, and I think that TCB has filtered it through two very different gazes, two very different views of reality.

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    Well I probably do not understand this odd idea clearly but to me it appears to be basically that a "man" can be free to make money and bring up his family without being hindered by the government but that is a desire of many people in many countries and is not particularly American. Probably Americans (well a small minority of ten to thirty million) really do believe the rest of us are all labouring under Marxist tyranny and have no "DREAM". And, more importantly, that we are lesser beings because of that. Bit of tripe really. Strange thing is that on a personal level I seem to meet ordinary Americans very like myself and only hear about the loathsome Trumps of the world via their appearances in the media.

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    I think the traditional ideal of the American Dream is that through hard-work every American (male or female) has the freedom to persue and improve both their social and economic conditions. Of course, inherent in this freedom is the assumption that these improvements will provide a better quality of life. In other words, the so-called “good-life,” which is usually romanticized as a happy family complete with a house in the suburbs, swimming pool, a white picket fence, 2.2 children and a dog sleeping in the driveway. However, it would seem that for many people, this “ideal” of the American Dream is not as readily available as it was to past generations. Call me a cynic, but I would suggest that the American Dream is fading into merely being able to work a single job, for a company paying a livable wage and providing health insurance.

    Incidentally, I am an American and I have never thought that “the rest of [you] are all labouring under Marxist tyranny and have no "DREAM". And, more importantly, that [you] are lesser beings because of that.” In fact, I honestly believe that if we (America), as a society, can ever free ourselves of our ethnocentric arrogance long enough to notice what some other countries are doing, we just may learn a thing or two. Who knows, we might even have to admit that we don’t have all the answers, particularly when it comes to social issues such as health care and education (just to give a couple of examples).

    One of the things I find most fascinating about this novel is that even though it was published 17 years ago (1995), in many ways it could have been written yesterday. It is sad how little we (The United States) have learned (and changed) in almost two decades.

    Ed

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    I agree that the juxtaposition between Delany and Candido as they persue their individual model of the American Dream is a central theme throughout this book. I find it telling (and tragically sad) that after hitting Candido, “Delany’s first thought was for his car” (p. 4) and this reaction comes from a man who considers himself “a liberal humanist” (p. 3) (Well, at least he did feel a bit of shame for this initial thought).

    Candido’s vision of the American Dream seems much simpler than Delany’s but then again, he also begins the story from very different positions, both socially and economically. It hints to the age-old philosophical question: Is the glass half empty or half full? I would suggest that for many people, the answer to this question depends upon where the proverbial glass began. Said another way, one’s wants and needs tend to be much more modest when starting with nothing. (Think Maslow) I suspect it will be interesting to follow both characters’ assessment of this question as we dive deeper into the story.

    That being said, here are some other quotes that I think point toward the character’s contrasting pursuit of the American Dream:

    “Because he’d just left the poor son of a ***** there alongside the road, abandoned him, and because he’d been glad of it, relieved to buy him off with twenty dollars’ blood money. And how did that square with his liberal-humanist ideals?” (p. 13)

    “She’d laid him here on the blanket and he’d given her the crumpled bill he’s earned in the hardest way any man could imagine, in the way that would kill him…” (p. 21)

    “He would live. And who cared how ugly he was as long as he could work?” (p. 24)

    “He knew what they were like, and he vowed he’d never let America out of his sight if he could help it, not till they had a real house in a real neighborhood with laws and respect and human dignity.” (p. 27)

    “He’d promised. Sure he had. He’d held up the lure of all those things, washing machines, vacuum cleaners, the glitter of the North like a second Eden…what else was he going to tell her? That they would get robbed at the border and live under two boards at the dump till he could make enough on the streetcorner to get them across? That they’d hide out like rats in a hole and live on a blanket beside a stream that would run dry in a month?” (p. 29)

    Also for your consideration, a few select quotes to get us thinking about another of the novel’s central themes; the prejudice and discrimination faced by minorities trying to assimilate into another culture:

    “There wasn’t a trail in the Santa Monica Mountains that didn’t have its crushed beer cans, its carpet of glass, its candy wrappers and cigarette butts, and it was people like this Mexican or whatever he was who were responsible, thoughtless people, stupid people, people who wanted to turn the whole world into a garbage dump, a little Tijuana…” (p. 11)

    “He’d been in Los Angles nearly two years now, and he’d never really thought about it before, but they were everywhere, these men, ubiquitous, silently going about their business, whether it be mopping up the floors at McDonald’s, inverting trash cans in the ally out back of Emilio’s or moving purposively behind the rakes and blowers that combed the pristine lawns Arroyo Blanco Estates twice a week. Where had they all come from? What did they want? And why did they have to throw themselves under the wheels of his car?” (p. 12)
    “And then, before the words could turn to ash in his mouth, it was out: ‘I told you-he was Mexican.’” (p. 15)

    “The old man there at the checkout- a paisano, he called himself, from Italy-he didn’t look at you like you were dirt, like you were going to steal,.…” (p. 17)

    “…cars swished by her in a lethal hissing chain, and in every one a pair of eyes that screamed, Get out, get out of here and go back where you belong!...” (p. 19)

    Till next time…Happy Reading!!!

    Ed

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    TCB is an excellent writer of short stories which are varied and interesting. Of his novels I read several recently. I think I read four or five in the last eighteen months. I read the outstanding Water Music last year and Drop-city but the one I enjoyed most was East is East because of the tragi-comic approach which worked really well. I have The Road to Wellville waiting and The Women. He has the knack of drawing rounded characters, writing well from within female personas and drawing the reader in to the inner lives of these characters in a sympathetic way. Americans are fortunate to have a constant stream of writers who are better than merely good. If TCB has one irritating mannerism for me it's a too frequent reference to popular culture and consumerism.

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    I’m not real familiar with TCB. In the nature of full disclosure, I must admit that I have read The Tortilla Curtain once before and I am a big fan of this novel. Prior to reading The Tortilla Curtain, I read When the Killing’s Done, which I did not find to be nearly as good a story. However, what drew me to it, as I was reading the dust cover at a local book store, were the social/ethical questions paramount to the theme of the novel.

    Admittedly, these are the only two TCB novels I have read and while I find The Tortilla Curtain to be a much better book, I enjoy, and I am impressed with, the author’s willingness and ability to explore complex social issues in both of these narratives.

    Ed

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    I was drawn to a number of the same quotations as you were! Within the first pages of this novel I was startled by the openness of the author, the way he explains and filters a seriously depressing reaction to human pain and suffering, through the eyes of someone who has convinced themselves of their own humanitarian status. I am particularly drawn to both Delaney's and his wife's reactions to the death of their dog. Delaney felt strong enough to bring a bloody piece of the animal to a meeting in his town, wave it around like a lunatic, while he is harboring no sympathy for the human he injured (and for all he knows has killed). I would like to think that they are only so deep in denial that this is some twisted way of showing that they care for the life thrown into an unknown abyss.

    "Where had they all come from? What did they want? And why did they have to throw themselves under the wheels of his car?” (p. 12)

    With this quote I see that Delaney has already released himself of responsibility over the man he hit, while he questions himself about how tall he decided to have the fence built, or if maybe they should be in a gated community after-all, and this is in reaction over the death of a household pet. I am very interested to see how Delaney evolves, if he does, and how this accident will surface in his life.

    Loving the book, hopefully I will get some more reading done this weekend!

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    Wow!! I’m sorry that I’ve been off from this book lately but, with the holidays and all, time just seemed to slip away. However, I’ve finally managed to finish both chapters 3 and 4.


    Delany’s reaction to the death of his (well his wife’s) dog was interesting. To Delaney, it would appear that the incident was about “those idiots (his neighbors) leaving food out for the coyotes as if they were nothing more than sheep with bushy tails and eyeteeth….and he’d warned them time and time again. You can’t be heedless of your environment. You can’t” (p. 39). He doesn’t seem to (or want to) realize that encroaching on the coyote’s natural hunting ground certainly plays a part as well. He also seems a bit self-righteous as he laments and initially resents his neighbors wish to construct a gate, an act that certainly could be viewed as heeding one’s environment. It’s simply a matter of what (or whom) you wish to keep out.

    I don’t think Delany is entirely superficial but I think circumstances are forcing him to confront his opinions, beliefs and prejudices. I suspect it will be noteworthy to observe how he reacts as further events unfold.

    Delany’s wife, Kyra, on the other hand is a little harder for me to sympathize with; at least thus far into the story. While she seems very “politically correct” she also appears to be very shallow; the archetypical suburban “yuppie” who is more interested in selling houses (or the competition therein) than she is with her own family. However, I am willing to cut her a bit of slack because I think at some level she has the feeling her life is out of balance and maybe even a bit misguided. Following the death of her dog, she does have a small epiphany when she realizes: “All this over a dog? It was ridiculous, she knew it. There were people out there going through Dumpsters for a scrap to eat, people lined up on the streets begging for work, people who’d lost their homes, their children, their spouses, people with real problems, real grief. What was wrong with her? Maybe it was her priorities, maybe that was it. What was she doing with her life?” (p. 74-75) So, we’ll see where she goes from here.

    Meanwhile, as Candido recovers from his accident, America tries to find work which adds insult to Candido’s injuries. After all, she is pregnant and he feels it is his responsibility to take care of her. I find myself feeling very sorry for this terrified young woman. Candido persuades his young bride to come to the United States with promises of riches and she finds herself living on a blanket by a stream. I believe we are also witnessing the end of innocence as she explains that prior to crossing the border, “she’d never done anything illegal in her life” (p. 59). Would she have done so if she realized where she would end up? She even questions herself: “Have I sunk to this, a good student and a good girl who always respected her parents and did what she was told, sitting here penniless in the dirt with a common drunk?” (p. 58) I wonder if everything will work out for her in the end or do bad things happen to good people in TCB’s world?

    And what of Delany’s column regarding the night he spends alone in the woods with a “handful of raisins and a blanket [asking] what more could I want?” (p. 79) I believe both Candido and America, who have grown tired, discouraged and disillusioned struggling to survive under similar conditions, may be able to offer Delany a few practical suggestions. But of course, the question is rhetorical as Delany will soon be returning to the comfort of his home. Then again, even if Candido and America were able to understand English, they would only be able to read Delany’s column if someone else threw it away.

    There is a lot more I could write about but this post has already gone longer than I intended…(I know, I know, what else is new right???)

    Signing off for now but, as always, keeping the channel open. Until next time, Happy Reading!!!!

    Ed
    Last edited by Book Club 3; 01-02-2013 at 05:36 PM.

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    Chapters 3&4

    Yes, the holidays were crazy, I can see how easy it would be to lose track of time! This book sat in my car a little over break, but just getting back into it now and liking the motion of the plot (I’m nearly done with chapter 7).

    I find it interesting to compare how love is regarded in the two parallel couples. Delaney introduces his wife to us in some detail on page 35, “He and Kyra had a lot in common, not only temperamentally, but in terms of their beliefs and ideals too—that was what had attracted them to each other in the first place.” ….. “Their memberships included the Sierra Club, Save the Children, the National Wildlife Federation and the Democratic Party.” … “In religious matters, they were agnostic.” He seems to see himself and his wife as two separate entities that have decided they are alike enough to engage in a relationship. It felt like I was reading a help wanted add in reverse; an already completed set of comparable parts have found other comparable parts.

    Candido on the other had caresses the image of his wife, making her an idol in his mind, an image he must shatter as she makes her way in the working world. “America. The thought of her brought her face back to him, her wide innocent face, the face of a child still, with the eyes that bled into you and the soft lisping breath of a voice that was like the first voice you’d ever heard.” Pg 52. I can see now that these two men have grown up with very different views on what roll women play in the world of marriage, and how this life in America is thrusting views on Candido that his isn’t able to comprehend.

    I don’t have any time left at the computer, but I have more to say (as always). I’m thinking what a wonderful way to show the ‘American’ survival instincts vs. the actual survival instincts in the book! It made me laugh!

    -Vanessa

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