HarperCollins Publishers Ltd|September 20, 2011|Hardcover|ISBN: 978-1-44340-709-0
Scott Torres is a thirty-something Mexican American with a beautiful, blonde wife, Maureen; a mansion outside L.A.; and a staff of servants to tend his lawn, clean house and care for the three Torres children. As the novel opens, all the servants have been let go save for Araceli, their maid. Scott has fallen on hard times after a failed investment, and to make ends meet he has been forced to cut costs, even if it means he has to wrestle with this lawnmower just to get it started. With the recent addition of a newborn into their family, tension escalates, and the couple soon part ways – Maureen to a spa with the baby; Scott to a female co-worker’s house. Both think the other is caring for the children.
Araceli, who has never raised children before, spends more time daydreaming about her former life as a Mexico City artist than caring for the Torres’ kids. When she starts to run out of food, she spirits the youngsters off on an absurd adventure through Los Angeles in search of their Mexican American grandfather. When the parents finally return home they panic, thinking Araceli has kidnapped the children. Soon a national media circus explodes over the “abduction.”
The Barbarian Nurseries is a lush, highly populated social novel in the vein of Tom Wolfe tempered with a bit of T.C. Boyle that explores dashed dreams through a city divided.
Scott Torres was upset because the lawn mower wouldn’t start, no matter how hard he pulled the cord it just wouldn’t start. Araceli, his Mexican maid was watching him through the kitchen window and knew she should tell him the secret that made the mower roar to life. All he had to do was turn a knob on the side of the engine which made the mower start as easy as “pulling a lose thread from a sweater.” Scott had recently let Pepe the gardener go and felt Scott’s struggle with the mower fitting punishment for doing so. Pepe had been gone two weeks and Araceli missed him and knew she’d never see him again.
Araceli enjoyed working for the Torres-Thompson household and thought working for them as a self-imposed exile from her previous directionless life in Mexico City. However, neither of her bosses informed Araceli beforehand of the momentous news that she would be the last Mexican working in the house. Maureen, the wife, never called herself “Mrs. Torres”, though she and el senor Scott were indeed married. Araceli lived in their home 12 days out of every 14, but was often kept in the dark about what was going on in the family, for example; Maureen’s pregnancy with their 3rd child, which Araceli only found out about because of Maureen’s repeated vomiting. The couple had two boys: Keenan, 8; Brandon, 11; and one daughter, Samantha, 15 months.
Maureen Thompson was a petite woman, elegant and thirty-eight-years-of-age. She and Scott had been married for twelve years. Scott was a write of computer programs. They had lived in their current home for 5 years.
Now that Scott and Maureen had fired all the other staff, Araceli suddenly found herself being plopped with a baby in her arms. This was never Araceli’s job – ever! Guadalupe had been the children’s nanny and this sudden new role did not sit well with her. The truth was Araceli had never been close to children; they were a mystery she had no desire to solve, especially the boys, with their screams of battle and electric sound effects they produced with lips and cheeks. Scott had indicated they were going broke and couldn’t afford to keep all the staff so Araceli didn’t have much choice.
Maureen and Scott had a horrendous fight over their severely depleted financial situation and Maureen had just spent 3 figures for a new back garden they didn’t need nor could afford. That same day, Scott had taken his loyal employees out for lunch and when the bill came his credit card was declined leaving his employees to divvy up the cheque between them. Scott was furious with Maureen and as the argument became more heated, he lost all control and pushed Maureen backward where she promptly fell on the large glass-topped coffee table smashing it to smithereens. That evening they both slept in different areas of the house.
The following morning, Maureen decided to take baby Samantha away with her for a few days leaving Scott to juggle work and the boys with Araceli’s help. She packed up, loaded the baby into the car seat and left. Unbeknownst to her, Scott had a similar idea. He too took off leaving the boys and Samantha behind for Maureen to care for, or so he thought. When Araceli arose and began making breakfast, she didn’t notice anything amiss until only Brandon and Keenan showed up at the breakfast table. After searching the house she realized that Maureen, Scott and the baby were gone. After 2 days of trying to contact both parents and running out of food, Araceli didn’t know what to do. She finally decides to take the boys their Grampa John’s house whom they hadn’t seen in two years. The boys were excited beyond measure. Araceli locates his address, gets the boys to pack their suitcase with wheels and they set out for the bus stop. Araceli is just not equipped nor prepared to care for two little boys long term. However, little does she know her actions will be perceived as kidnapping and thereby starting a frenzied media circus like you’ve never seen.
The Barbarian Nurseries was a fairly good read although I found it to be quite mundane and too drawn out in parts.