A summary of T.C. Boyle’s The Tortilla Curtain
Delaney Mossbacher and Cándido Rincón live totally different lives, but share Topanga Canyon as their home. Delaney is a middle-class liberal humanist and Cándido is a homeless illegal Mexican immigrant. The novel begins with Delaney unexpectedly hitting Cándido with his car. The accident really startles Delaney, but instead of making sure Cándido gets proper medical attention, Delaney gives him 20 dollars and hopes he will disappear from his life. Delaney does not choose to call the police because he does not want to blemish his perfect driving record and Cándido chooses not to seek medical care because he is afraid of being deported. The men part ways; however this unfortunate car accident causes Cándido and Delaney’s lives to be influenced by one another from that point on.
After the accident Delaney tries to put it behind him and get back to his life, but problems seem to keep appearing. Delaney lives in a gated community called Arroyo Blanco, with others who are well-off like his family. Every morning he makes breakfast for his stepson Jordan and his work obsessive wife, Kyra, and then he spends the afternoon writing his column for the magazine, Wide Open Spaces. However, one morning, a few days after Delaney’s accident, his morning routine is disturbed by a coyote that enters their backyard and murders one of their dogs. This causes Delaney to become furious, because he blames it on his neighbors leaving food out which causes coyotes and other wild animals to come to Arroyo Blanco. Delaney tries to voice his opinion to the other residents in the community at their town hall meetings, but the rest of the community is focused on building a wall around their entire estate to keep out immigrants who they believe will potentially become thieves and criminals.
Meanwhile while Delaney and his family are trying to recover from the loss of their pet, Cándido is trying to recover from loss of consciousness, and from being badly injured from the car accident. He is not able to find work, because he cannot walk or use his arm. He cannot provide for his seventeen year old wife, América, who is pregnant, or find them a home, so they can stop camping out in the Topanga Canyon. While Candido is recovering, América is trying to find work to keep them alive, all while avoiding anyone who would try to get her husband and herself deported back to Mexico. She goes to the labor exchange day after day and after a few unsuccessful attempts, she finds work. Cándido feels like less of a man since his wife has to provide for him, but he realizes there is nothing he can do because of his injuries. As time proceeds, Cándido’s injuries begin to heal, and now he and America are both working, and just as they have saved up a little money, more problems occur. Cándido is robbed while they are in the city one night and America is robbed and raped while in the canyon one evening. Cándido and America are once again poor, homeless, and with a baby coming soon.
As Thanksgiving approaches, situations for both couples seem to be improving, Delaney and his family are preparing Thanksgiving dinner and attend a party at a neighbor’s house, while Cándido and América are given a turkey and couldn’t be more excited to have food. But once again trouble comes. While cooking the turkey in the canyon, Cándido starts a fire and it spreads rapidly. He and America are able to escape, but now Delaney, his family, and the rest of Arroyo Blanco find themselves having to evacuate their homes as well. Thanksgiving is ruined.
Through all the devastating chaos, América gives birth to a daughter. Cándido builds a shed for them for shelter. One afternoon Delaney spots Cándido, and has a strong feeling the fire had something to do with him. Delaney goes home and gets his gun, and that evening he explores the canyon until he finds Cándido, América, and their daughter in the shed. Just as Delaney is preparing to confront Cándido about the fire, a landslide knocks the shed over and they all end up in the river. Cándido and América manage to save themselves and although it is not stated in the text it is obvious that their baby daughter has drowned. Delaney was so furious with Cándido and so tired of him causing chaos in his life that he planned to call the cops on him that evening. However the novel ends with Cándido showing kindness, helping to pull Delaney out of the river.