The coyote is not to blame – he is only trying to survive, to make a living, to take advantage of the opportunities available to him…The coyotes keep coming, breeding up to fill in the gaps, moving in where the living is easy. They are cunning, versatile, hungry and unstoppable. – From Tortilla Curtain, pages 214-215 –
T.C. Boyle has created a novel about social injustice which is stunning in its simple yet eloquent language. Two couples inhabit the land just outside of the urban jungle of Los Angeles…Kyra and Delaney, wealthy and comfortable within the confines of their gated community, and Candido and America, illegal immigrants struggling to find a better life far from their native Mexico. Boyle crafts these characters carefully, contrasting the vast gulf between the wealthy and the poor.
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 or kitsch. In religious matters, they were agnostic. -From Tortilla Curtain, page 34-
After a week and a half of living on so little that his stomach had shrunk and his pants were down around his hips, the effect of all that abundance was devastating. There was no smell of food here, no hint of the rich stew of odors you’d find in a Mexican market – these people sanitized their groceries just as they sanitized their kitchens and toilets and drove the life from everything, imprisoning their produce in jars and cans and plastic pouches, wrapping their meat and even their fish in cellophane – and yet still the sight and proximity of all those comestibles made his knees go weak again. – From Tortilla Curtain, pages 122-123 –
Boyle’s novel reveals the harsh realities of survival among desperate people. Simple things, like a roof over one’s head or food in one’s belly, become pivot points upon which this story turns. I found myself wondering, what would I be willing to do when faced with wretched circumstances or the simple fact of starvation?
Churning through the novel are questions about the political quagmire of illegal immigration. Boyle deftly reveals the human side to the immigration issues, forcing the reader to grapple with this problem and wonder about the solutions. Might illegal immigration be merely a symptom of a larger, more difficult problem?
When Delaney’s ordered world intersects with Candida’s, the normally liberal minded Delaney is forced to address his own racism.
“…Well did you ever stop to think what happens when they don’t get that half-day job spreading manure or stripping shingles off a roof? Where do you think they sleep? What do you think they eat? What would you do in their place?” Jack, ever calm, ever prepared, ever cynical, drew himself up and pointed an admonishing finger. “Don’t act surprised, because this is only the beginning. We’re under siege here – and there’s going to be a backlash. People are fed up with it. Even you. You’re fed up with it too, admit it.” -From Tortilla Curtain, page 146 –
Boyle uses symbolism skillfully, employing the natural landscape as a backdrop to the conflicts between the characters. The desolate country haunted by wild and evasive coyotes conjures up a world of fear where survival of the fittest becomes the law of the land. At times deeply disturbing, Tortilla Curtain ultimately leaves the reader with a shadow of hope.