A delightful discovery I made while starting to write this re-review was a blog post I wrote 10 years ago about the books that made a deep impression on me. Tangerine was one of those books. I’m tempted to rattle off things that my home town had in common with Tangerine/Lake Windsor Downs—a citrus growing industry, strange segregation between white and Hispanic neighborhoods and people, groves with fans and heaters for cold nights (I think I remember the orange glow of smudge pots on winter nights, but perhaps that is a memory incepted by this very book, as they were banned in California decades before I was born). The truth is that there were as many things completely outside of my experience in Paul Fisher’s life as there were in it. My parents were not image-conscious people. We were not a sports family, and I did not have any physical characteristics that made me different other than being fat. I did not have a tormenting older brother; to my eternal shame, I was that older brother.
What Paul Fisher and I had in common, however, was the fear.
After Paul joins the War Eagles and the team comes together, they start winning:
“The War Eagles have set out on a bloody rampage through the county. We have destroyed every enemy. We have laid waste to their fields and their fans. There is fear in their eyes when we come charging off our bus, whooping our war cry. They are beaten by their own fear before the game even begins. This is a feeling that I have never known before. Anyway, I have never known it from this side of the fear. Maybe I am just a [substitute], maybe I am just along for the ride, but this is the greatest thing that has ever happened to me.”
Paul feels the catharsis of stepping out of the fear that he experiences all of the time through soccer, a healthy channel for that need. As a teenager, I tried to escape that fear in ways that were unhealthy just as often as they were healthy. I spent a lot of time alone with music, creating a zone of safety around me, but I also was mean to people and made fun of others because while I was directing the target of mockery, it could never be me. Maybe it’s because his fear is so focused on an actual threat, but Paul can see the fear and shame in those around him:
“Mom took me into the kitchen and got me a glass of water. She ran her finger under the strap of my goggles and slipped them off. Then she said, “Honey you know how it is with your eyesight. You know you can’t see very well.’ And that was that. But I can see. I can see everything. I can see things that Mom and Dad can’t. Or won’t.”
Paul can see the fear that his parents and the adults in the subdivision have that their home investments will become worthless, that their projected image will crumble. He sees the chips on his classmates’ shoulders and the callous way that his brother takes advantage of the adults around him, who are so overly concerned about threats from the outside that they don’t pay attention to monsters closer to home.
You spend some time with Paul and you see it too. This is not an overtly political book, but reading it made me also think of the wildly weird Bush years. You can view this book through the lens of the culture of that time, or maybe the other way around, but so many flashpoints: hypocrisy of prosperity gospel religious bullshitters, rampant gentrification, everyday racism, toxic relationship to the earth, creepy messaging about keeping the home/homeland safe, even lax oversight by government officials to promote development, they’re all here in Tangerine.
I forgot how abruptly it ends, and I’m afraid that the next few years were probably tough for Paul. His brother was a monster, but he also needed a lot of intervention to have a hope of making it through his teen years. We don’t get any real reason to believe that his parents will grow into better ones. But today Paul would be around 35. I hope he’s had some time to grow and heal, and some time to be really angry at his parents, and maybe some therapy. Revisiting Tangerine, I often just appreciated how good-hearted Paul is. I hope he’s found his way to step out of the fear without needing to be on the other side of it.