Pursued by Hollywood after the success of his novel The Road To Wellville, T. Coraghessan Boyle is getting back to basics. He speaks to David Harris.
A few years ago. badgered by a Hollywood producer. T. Coraghessan Boyle agreed to write the script for a ﬁlm of his novel Water Music - on condition that he star in the movie. direct it. and play all the principal female roles in drag. The harassment ended, leaving the author free to get on with his work. Only I can write my next novel.‘ he says. ‘but anybody can write a script. in fact. everybody is writing a script. right now!‘
it's ironic. then. that Boyle‘s biggest success. his ﬂaky satire The Road To Wei/ville. has come in the wake of a screen adaptation; but he has no worries of the movie becoming a millstone. ‘I see the ﬁlm industry from my selﬁsh point of view as a promotional tool.‘ he says. ‘I chose to sell the ﬁlm rights in the hope that Alan Parker would make a good ﬁlm and that that would popularize the book. and by extension all my other books. That‘s exactly what happened. so l'm
delighted. Of course. l would have preferred that the American public embraced the ﬁlm in the way that they embraced some great work of art like Forrest (1 ump.’
With his sixth novel The Tortilla
‘Only I can write my next novel, but anybody can write a script. In fact, everybody is writing a script, right now.’
Curtain. Boyle has turned the satirical heat down to a simmer. broaching the contentious topic of California's illegal immigrants who skip the Mexican border searching for El Dorado in El Norte. When jogging. non-smoking liberal Delaney Mossbacher runs over
A the unfortunate Candido Rincon on the
T. Coraohessan Boyle: tortilla chip on the old block
Q l is” as: -
freeway. he simply slips the wetback $20 and heads back to his plush suburban home. The bruised Mexican. meanwhile. hobbies off to his makeshift bed in the nearby canyon where his pregnant seventeen-year-old wife is waiting. As the two men's paths entwine. Delaney‘s humanist veneer gives way to indignation at the interloper. and eventually to paranoiac bigotry.
Boyle‘s tragicomic morality play convincingly depicts racism‘s insidious appeal: like the barbarians in Cavafy‘s poem. demon ﬁgures serve a useful social purpose. But there are also wider implications. even ifthe novel at times strains under their weight. Delaney‘s monthly nature column appears in the magazine Wide Open Spaces. the joke
being that his community on the Arroyo Blanco Estate is about to become ‘gated'. installing a 7ft wall and a security guard to keep out the ethnic riff-raff.
‘l chose to make Delaney a nature writer. because then I could talk about the issue on a biological rather than simply a socio-political level.’ says Boyle. ‘When resources dwindle in one area we animals move to another area, and no tortilla curtain's going to stop us. When you wall something out what are you walling in?‘
Like his Voltairean namesake. Candido endures a series of disasters, but patience is one of his few saintly attributes. Boyle. known for stylistic versatility and range of characterisation. has had flak from ‘the PC politburo‘ for daring to write from a Mexican's perspective.
‘My instincts are to write full-blown satire.‘ he says. ‘but I tried to do something different this time round. As it evolved i realised that I had to use satire more on Delaney than on my Mexican characters because they are the ones who don‘t have a voice and they need to be the moral centre of the book. On the other hand. l didn‘t want to sugar-coat them either. because then we‘d have a sort of Walt Disney reality.‘
Disturbingly. as the race debate in California becomes ever more rebarbative. even the most grotesque caricatures have an ominous ring of truth.
The Tortilla Curtain by '1? Coraghessan Boyle is published by Bloomsbury at £15.99.
Let’s be Frank
Nancy Sinatra has drawn together the life and times of her warbling father Frank. Damien Love casts an eye and an ear over a cultural icon.
Leaﬁng through the ﬁrst half of this tome. the reader is again reminded — as ifyou'd forgotten in the ﬁrst place - that Frank Sinatra is America, the link that holds together a huge jigsaw of mythic references. FDR, Lucky Strike cigarettes. Lucky Luciano. Gene Kelly, New York. Humphrey Bogart. Lauren Bacall, Joe DiMaggio. Marilyn Monroe. JFK. Jazz. Movies. Vegas. Mobsters . . . and on and on. Francis Albert is there somewhere. close at hand, watching over.
The ﬁnger-pOppin', swingin‘ Chairman of the Board with a martini in his hand. a wisecrack on his lips and a glint in his eyes. Or is he the doe- eyed young heart-throb. unsure of himself and needing mothered? Or the wee small hours crooner, singing the saddest songs to an empty room or a moon-bleached sky, with an understanding of the awfulness and the futility that would make Camus wince?
Or the civil rights activist under scrutiny by the FBI in McCarthy's witch-hunting 50s? The friend ofJohn F. Kennedy or the friend of Ronald Reagan? The guy who played baseball with Anthony Quinn or the guy who tried to kill himself over Ava Gardner?
As I say, An American Legend reminds you of all this. without really capturing or explaining any of it at all. Although the book bills itselfas ‘an intimate. candid and complete portrait' and claims to ‘separate the fact from the ﬁction. the real deal from the myths‘ — as you‘d perhaps expect. given its author — the tone is soft and eulogistic. if this work resembles anything. it‘s one of those gala TV presentations where the stars gather to pay their respects: This Is Your Life with a nine-month shooting period and a big budget.
The device of dividing his life into a series of important dates (concerts. recording sessions. marriages. Oscar ceremonies) can be slightly redundant. with some entries resembling nothing more than reminders in a diary. but. then again. there‘s so much to get through. Lavisth illustrated with some great poster reproductions. and with contributions from The Voice himself. this book will delight any Frankophile. even ifthe ‘real deal' lies some degrees away. somewhere between here and
Kitty Kelley’s His Way. Light one up. pour one out. and relax. Frank Sinatra? Well, buddy. he’s a kinda poet.
Frank Sinatra — An American Legend by Nancy Sinatra is published by Virgin at £25.
Thursday 2nd November DAVID GARRETT
TASTE OF SCOTLAND
Frid rdN vm r
o . ' 9 . Scottish Book Fortnight k“ 'N S, 2 l st October - 4th November I995 "iz‘ '
6pm Carmondean Library, Carmondean Centre, Livingston
An evening with Scottish traditional storytelling. Highland dancers. a ceilidh band and live music including a whistle demonstration by David Garrett. author of AWhistle Tutor for Highland Music. Contact: Bernadette Man — 0/506 434266
6.30pm james Thin Ltd, 57 George Street, Edinburgh
Cookery demonstrations by the George Intercontinental and tastings of Scottish food and drink to celebrate the launch of this year's edition of the Taste of Scotland guide.Tickets available. Contact: Lorna Dixon — 0/3! 225 4495
6.45pm Dillons Bookstore, l 74-! 76 Argyle Street, Glasgow
A talk. based on Weir’s World. from one of Scotland’s best-known climbers who will share his unbounded enthusiasm and extensive knowledge of the land and its wildlife.Tickets available.
Contact: Graham Wilson — 0/ 4! 248 4814
A L KENNEDY AND CONTRIBUTORS
2.30pm Paisley Central Library, High Street, Paisley
Meet the editor of Last Things First - New Writing Scotland I3.who wi!| introduce the collection (which explores both heavenly and hellish dimensions of Scottish life) and some of its' contributors. Contact Branch librarian - Ol 41 887 36 72/889 2360
Pick up a free brochure or contact the Scottish Book Marketing Group Scottish Book Centre. I37 Dundee Street. Edinburgh EHI l IBG or telephone 0| 3| 228 6866
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The List 3- l6 Nov 1995 93