The Tortilla Curtain – T. C. Boyle (1995)

book377A reread from a few years back, this was actually just as good a read (if not better) the second time around. Boyle is an American writer who takes contemporary news issues (in this case, the issue of immigration) and then writes a narrative around that issue, usually raising a dilemma where there is no clear right and wrong. His plot lines are also unpredictable so I can never really guess the endings and that I love. That, combined with excellent writing skills and a large vocabulary, make Boyle a joy to read most of the time, so if you haven’t picked up one of his many novels or short stories, I highly recommend them. They’re almost a guaranteed good read.

This novel, The Tortilla Curtain, tells the story of two couples whose lives accidentally overlap with each other leading to a long chain of events which completely disrupt their lives. A young liberal California couple live in a mostly white community up in the hills just outside LA. Their lives are mostly smoothly run without any major hiccups until one day, the husband is driving his car and accidentally smashes into a Mexican immigrant who is here (along with his wife) as an undocumented citizen and who has no choice but to live in a rudimentary campsite down in the canyon that butts up against the backyard of the white couple. Such a collision leads to serious ramifications for both families, but Boyle writes the story in such a way that there is no obvious right or wrong. No one really does anything morally wrong, and both the couples just want similar goals: to live in a nice home and go to work.

It’s an intriguing premise that compares the Haves and the Have-Nots in today’s world. Through no fault of their own, the Mexican undocumented couple are striving for the same things that the privileged white couple are looking for, but when you are at rock bottom with few resources, how can you ever get out of your circumstances (especially if you can only live in the shadows)?

I could say more, but to tell you would be to ruin the plot and I don’t want to do that for you. Just know that this contemporary novel is a riveting read wherever you may stand on the touchy issue of immigration. It’s especially poignant when you realize how closely the two couples live, geographically speaking, and yet they are in worlds far away from each other. Boyle’s characters represent both sides of the immigration issue, and they are both written with equal parts compassion and criticism, both complicated with no clear solutions. It’s a fascinating read, especially in the light of the political chatter of building a wall between Mexico and the U.S. (ridiculous).

By showing the reader the rationale behind the actions of the characters, you can see the slippery slope that people may be on with regard to how they feel about things, especially when events are not theoretical but happen in your own backyard. Does that change how you view things?

An excellent read from T. C. Boyle and highly recommended.

General Catch-Up…

catch_upEvery now and then, I like to do a general round-up post about what’s going on in my life. It’s a nice break to write about something else other than books and reading, and it helps me keep my life on track when I can see it as an overview. So – this post is one of those posts.

The weekend was so RAINY. I know, rain may be more common in your part of the world, but I happen to live in a semi-arid environment (almost a desert/scrub-land sort of world), and so rain does not come often. It tends to be rainy in May, but apart from that month, there’s not much precipitation coming from the sky.

So, guess what? It rained for almost a full two days over the weekend. It must have been a couple of inches, and it was pretty steady throughout, with occasional minutes of heavier rain. Normally, I love and adore rain, but since we have brought Nova (a young German Shepherd) home, we’ve learned that she is one of the biggest fans of rain and mud in the entire canine world. If there’s mud or filthy water or puddles, you can almost double-dog* guarantee that she will be in with all four paws for most of the time. I’m all for having a good time, but Nova? You need to wipe your paws when you come in the house. Muddy footprints *everywhere* and on our clothes from when she jumps up to say hi, and so the house has been FILTHY. Sigh.

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This isn’t Nova, but it well could be.

This rainy weather also meant that there were some good reading moments at my usual hangouts, and this was great. Got to get some reading and writing done (no ‘rithmatic though :-)), and I found this to be really satisfying. The past weekend had been spent completely re-organizing my bathroom cabinets and some of my bedroom drawers which has meant that some of this weekend was spent walking around admiring my now really tidy storage. (Am I the only person who does this?) The reorganization was one of the more satisfying ways to spend my time, and I managed to get rid of two shopping bags of bathroom junk which has freed up a ton of space now. Aaaah. Bliss to open the cabinets and see lots of empty space and what has remained now corralled in storage containers…

(One thing I’ve learned about organizing is that those canvas over-the-door shoe hangers are magnificent for storing bits and pieces apart from shoes.)

Reading has been happening as well. I finished Boyle’s Tortilla Curtain the other day. Incredible read and highly recommend any of Boyle’s work. (He is one of the more prolific writers so quality can vary, but most of his stuff is great.) That’s led to me prowling the TBR shelves (as you do) to find my next read which ended up being Mary Norris’ wonderful memoir/grammatical manifesto called From Me to You. Norris has worked at The New Yorker for years and is known as the Comma Queen (gotta love that title), and this is a fun read to experience. It’s good to hang with your own tribe every now and then.

Then I’ve been missing reading a classic of some kind, so I’ve picked up Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy. Love it completely, but Hardy is so good anyway.

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Watching: We’re riveted to the new Masterpiece show about Queen Victoria, and now I’m curious just how accurate the narrative is. (Cue reading Victorian biography I have sitting in my shelves…  In a minute…)

Saw a French movie called Elle which took some awards at the recent Golden Globes. (My recommendation is that you don’t pay money and time to see this film. So much violence against women that didn’t contribute to the forward movement of the plot…) One movie that more than makes up for that yucky experience is Hidden Figures which spotlights the contributions that a small group of African-American female mathematicians made to NASA’s early space flight program. (Really good film.)

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And then we’re in the process of researching new furniture for the living room and now narrowing down the choices to “really comfortable” combined with “not bad looking”… It’s not as easy as it sounds, let me tell you, but I think we have it narrowed down to a manageable number of pieces. The next step is to measure… We’re looking for a settee/couch set-up which sort of “hugs” you when you sit in it (as opposed to “bouncing you out” when you first sit down). It’s a lot of sitting down in furniture shops right now, but as I mentioned, we’re getting there. Hopefully something by the end of the month, which means that we’ll also need to sell the current furniture to make room for the new purchase!….

Know anyone? 🙂

  • See what I did there?…

Things on Cowboy’s Head – Guest Post

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(Above) – Fergus Cat studiously ignoring the tall human being hovering right behind her whilst she’s in her flower pot on the front step. She is, clearly, an expert at CAT-ting.

This is Fergus, one of Cowboy’s room-mates. Fergus is as sweet as can be, until you cross her (in her eyes) and then she has a very hot temper. If there is ever some misunderstanding between the kitties, you can almost guarantee that Fergus is in the mix somewhere.

She is also really chatty (lots to say), and likes to pretend to be feral and disappear for a couple of days, and when she’s had enough of that, she turns up on the door step and comes in to sleep like a log for about 20 hours.

She’s a sweetheart to the humans though. 🙂

 

Things on Cowboy’s Head No. 133

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Things on Cowboy’s Head No. 133: Fabric Hawaiian lie. 

Background Note: Cowboy is one of our cats who showed up out of the blue one snowy January day six years ago. Since then, she has made us her Forever Home (which works with us). She is big and friendly and doesn’t suffer fools gladly. She naps a lot (Olympic-level) and she eats a lot.

All of these points are helpful with this project that I have going on…

It’s called “Things on Cowboy’s Head” and I am just seeing what I can balance on the top of her head when she’s amenable to that. It’s been fun so far, and she seems quite happy to play along. (She just moves when she doesn’t want to participate.)

Beloved – Toni Morrison (1987)

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Chosen off the TBR for being a classic, Beloved was a good read although quite challenging in some ways. The beginning of a trilogy* set by Toni Morrison, the book is based on the history of an African American slave, Margaret Garner, who escaped slavery in Kentucky in 1856, although I’m not sure how much creative license has been taken by anyone. I haven’t read any of Morrison’s work before, so had little idea of what to expect but loved it in the end. It’s not the easiest work to read and you have to concentrate on the plot and the characters (or at least I did), but the effort is so worth it at the end of the day. Just be prepared for quite a ride, reading-wise.

So – to the story. It revolves around Sethe, an African-American woman born into slavery and who has now escaped that life. However, eighteen years later, she is still not free from the ramifications of her prior slavery life at a plantation called Sweet Home, an idyllic name for a ghastly place and one that still maintains a tenuous hold on Sethe, despite her best efforts at unshackling herself and her family. The book plot delves into her life so readers can better understand the choice that she makes, and how that choice impacts her days for the remainder of her life. (I can’t really tell you any more about the plot without giving spoilers, and it’s the plot that makes this book such a good read. Well, the writing too, but the plot definitely plays a role.)

There is a dreamy gauzy quality to this narrative, and it’s not a logical or chronological retelling, mainly because the events that occur are of the most terrible kind and hurt where it hurts the most – the heart. There is a lot of poetry in this novel in terms of how it’s been written and how it flows, but once I gave up trying to impose order on it, it was a much better read. You will need to let go of the typical structural expectations, but if you do, what was once surreal and puzzling becomes more understandable and predictable. (Well, I’m not sure about predictable, but at least one can see some rationale for why the characters behave as they do.)

It’s a good read, and all the more powerful for not being written or structured in a straight-forward narrative style as that fits the story being told: unreliable narrators, this dream-like quality, the nightmarish events, the resilience of the human spirit…

It’s a super book (obvs since it’s won loads of accolades including the Pulitzer Prize in 1988), but it plays with reality and with dreams, it plays with time and space, and it can all get a tad confusing if you’re not paying close attention. (This was my situation. I was picking up and putting down this book all over the place, and in retrospect, I think the book is best read in huge long chunks of time for immersion into the narrative and characters. I bonded with the story much better when I could dedicate some time to it.)

This is one of those books where the reader may need to work a bit at the story, but in this case, it’s so worth it. If I was going to compare it, I would pair it with “Their Eyes Were Watching God” by Zora Neale Hurston. I loved this on its own rights though, and I think you will as well.

  • I had no idea that Beloved was part of a trilogy. In case you’re wondering, # 2 is Jazz (1992) and #3 is Paradise (1997).

Happy New Year!

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Well, all things good have to come an end (as they say), and Christmas/holiday break is no different. After a week off of delightfully doing not much, it’s now back in the office and back into the work routine. I really enjoyed my time off although I seem to have precious little to show for it, except that Nova Dog is now pretty good at catching her tennis balls. 🙂

I had planned to do lots of reading, but my eyeball wasn’t doing very well, health-wise, so I couldn’t do that half as much as I had hoped to do. I did pick up and put down approximately 5,000 different books, but none of them took (plus the eye situation) combined to make fewer literary pursuits.

Image result for netflix hip hopWe did finish up Narcos on Netflix, and now we’re watching season one of Netflix’ Hip Hop Evolution series. (Really interesting, even if you’re not up with (or into) hip hop that much.) I’ve been reminded of artists that I haven’t thought of in years: Afrika Bombaata, Run DMC, LL Cool J, Grandmaster Flash etc. Now we’re up to the rise of West Coast hip hop (notably with the NWA palaver). It’s really interesting if you like music history…

What did I do instead? Did I use my time wisely and in the most productive manner? Indeed not. 🙂 I spent way too long messing around on-line, I collected loads of stuff in the half-price sales for Christmas stockings, picked up a few Toys for Tots presents, and lost my valued notebook. Sigh. Someone somewhere now has an almost brand new Moleskin notebook with a few of my scribbles in it. Ah well. ‘Tis just a thing, and I have another so life continues moving forward…

This time last year, I was recovering from brain surgery and we’d just had 13 inches of snow. (The snow fall was apocalyptic for this area, so the city more or less shut down for a few days. It was great. I know people in the northern states may smirk at this, but down here, that snow’s quite rare stuff so it was a pretty big deal.)

So, no snow and no brain surgery means the New Year is already off to a good start! I’m thinking that my One Word for the year will continue with last year’s word (Curate) as it worked really well. I chose “curate” as it means, to me, careful editing of what comes into and out of your life, and this has a wide variety of applications in my head (not just people and things). So I’m looking ahead at that, and just working towards improving the world in my reach by being kind, honest, and courageous.

So, Christmas was fun and I got recharged from some heavy work hours prior to then. I slept some. I napped some. I dozed some. I worked out. I took Nova Dog for walks and practiced learning “fetch” and “drop”. Took some photos for the first time in a long time, eye notwithstanding, and now work is in full swing.

Life is good. I hope that you can say the same.