Friday, April 25, 2008

THE TORTILLA CURTAIN by T. Coraghessan Boyle

The Book: T. Coraghessan Boyle, THE TORTILLA CURTAIN. Viking, 1995 (first edition). Inscribed by author: "To Ellen, Con amistad, T. Coraghessan Boyle." Fine condition.
First read: 1995
Owned since: 1995

Anyone who lives or is thinking about living in Los Angeles or its suburbs should read this book, a dark but hopeful comedy about culture clash and border wars in California.

Boyle tells the parallel stories of two couples: Delaney and Kyra Mossbacher, who live in a gated community outside Los Angeles, and Candido and America Rincon, illegal immigrants who have set up camp in the canyons outside the Mossbachers' neighborhood. Terrible things happen to the Rincons, which the Mossbachers are not directly responsible for; their indirect responsibility (and by extension, ours) is what interests Boyle.

THE TORTILLA CURTAIN is an angry book that sometimes makes its points a little too strongly for the story Boyle's trying to tell, and the satire sometimes crosses the line into bitterness and sarcasm. But the book's spectacular, unlikely ending offers hope, and the book is probably Boyle's most compassionate work.

What I Read This Week

Sean Chercover, BIG CITY, BAD BLOOD. This debut just won the Gumshoe Award for best first novel of 2007, and it's well-deserved. Chicago PI Ray Dudgeon agrees to serve as bodyguard for a Hollywood location scout who is the key witness in a fraud case against a mid-level figure in Chicago organized crime. Dudgeon's client doesn't understand the danger he's in, even when other witnesses are killed -- and Dudgeon discovers that these deaths are just part of much bigger doings in the Outfit (Chicago's version of the Mafia). A terrific sense of place and a believable protagonist promise great things for this series.

Daniel Mark Epstein, SISTER AIMEE: The Life of Aimee Semple McPherson. Most people, if they know the name at all, remember Aimee Semple McPherson for her mysterious 1926 disappearance, when she went into the Pacific Ocean one afternoon and reappeared more than a month later in Mexico, claiming that she'd been kidnapped. Epstein is willing to believe McPherson, and doesn't prove or disprove the story; in fact, it's not even the most important event in the career of America's first nationally-known female evangelist. Epstein describes dozens, even hundreds, of documented healings, and the charity effort that saved thousands in Los Angeles during the Great Depression. Whatever our current idea of mass-market evangelists, Epstein says, Aimee Semple McPherson was sincere. Fascinating.

Janice Kaplan, A JOB TO KILL FOR. Janice Kaplan is the editor of Parade magazine. What a surprise, then, to find a blurb from Parade praising the first book in this series on the back of the advance readers' copy of this one. I'm not the audience for this book; I, for example, did not need her to translate the book's dedication ("Amor vincit omnia," which she helpfully explains means "Love conquers all"). I can only describe this book as lifestyle porn, and the worst the mystery genre offers. Interior decorator Lacy Fields, married to a plastic surgeon who adores her, investigates the death of her trophy-wife client -- with breaks to shop along the way. Brand names abound; the book will no doubt prove useful to those who want to know the latest chic brand of 1,000-thread count sheets. Had I not been trapped on a plane, I'd have quit reading by page 40; as it was, I finished the book wanting to poison everyone in it myself.


Bea said...

I assume you're aware of the connection of McPherson to Eli Sunday. Wait, have you seen There Will Be Blood? Hope LA is good.

JIM LAMB said...

Brought the boat up to
annapolis Thursday. Saw Chris briefly yesterday. Enjoying the reunion. Chris quit the hotel so his weekends are less hectic.

Enjoy LA. See you in two weeks.

The adventure continues.

Love, Dad