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"The coyote is not to blame--he is only trying to survive."
on 17 October 2005
Focusing on the problem of illegal immigration in California and the social upheaval that has accompanied it, T. C. Boyle tells two parallel, but interconnected, stories--one, the story of a liberal, yuppie writer, Delaney Mossbacher and his high-performing realtor wife, who live in Topanga Canyon's exclusive Arroyo Blanco Estates, and the other, the story of Candido Rincun, a forty-ish illegal immigrant from Mexico and his teenage bride America, trying to stay alive at a primitive camp they have made in the canyon.
Delaney writes a column on the environment, believes in recyling and fitness, lives on vitamins and tofu kabobs, and opposes his community association's desire to put up a gate to keep out "strangers." His life literally collides with that of the Rincuns, however, when he hits and injures Candido, who is walking along the road, ending Candido's chances to get work in construction or in the fields. Paying him twenty dollars, he hopes he will be able to avoid dealing with this intrusion into his "safe" life. Candido and the pregnant America will have to subsist for days on the groceries his twenty dollars have bought.
Candido, like the legendary Candide, is full of hopes, and while he does not believe that this is the best of all possible worlds, he does believe that he has a better chance of achieving his dreams in the U.S. than in Mexico. America, however, sees the reality of their existence--she is pregnant, forced to live like an animal, and worried that they will never have an apartment of their own. As the lives of the Mossbachers and the Rincuns continue to intersect, Delaney becomes increasingly self-protective and fearful, and events finally escalate into a dramatic confrontation.
Though Boyle satirizes the Mossbachers' lifestyle and their phony liberalism, he is sympathetic to that of the Rincuns, painting them as honest people with no resources. His characters are shallow, however, developed to illustrate his message about illegal immigrants, and not characters who come to life on their own. The light, humorous touch that can give power to satire and its moral messages is absent here, and though the story is often exciting, it lacks subtlety in its moralizing. A wild coyote, which attacks pets in the Mossbachers' now-gated community, appears several times as an obvious symbol. Though some dark humor evolves near the end, as the Rincuns try to stay alive in the canyon, the novel, overall, feels heavy handed, lacking constructive resolutions. Mary Whipple