“The Barbarian Nurseries” by Héctor Tobar by is a cautionary tale of life in Southern California. This is the story of Scott Torres, his wife, his three children, and those who care for them. They are an upwardly mobile family, propelled there by Torres’s success in technology. Theirs is a life of comfort, privilege, and organization in a home overlooking the majestic Pacific Ocean in affluent Orange County California. They are living the American dream. The family has an assortment of help including grounds keepers, household managers, and nannies. But, sometimes when you win you lose.
Money is a rock thrown into a pool which causes ripples that extend outward in ever expanding circles, encompassing all those in the way. What propelled them upward also causes their downward spiral. Financial constraints necessitate cost cutting and the dismissal of some of the “help.” This sends the family on a rollercoaster ride of conflict, personal struggles, and life style adjustments. The family disintegrates, and after a volatile family argument, Araceli, the remaining household employee, finds herself alone with the two Torres boys. She is not a nanny; she is not legal, and she does not want to be responsible for the boys. Her only option is to take them to their grandfather. Thus, their adventure begins.
The “adventure” disintegrates into cultural battles between the far right, the far left, and everything in between. The news media battles ICE; county law enforcement fights against federal authorities, and the threat of child protective services hangs over everyone. The American dream comes crashing down. Bad decisions turn life into an assembly line to disaster with no way off. No matter what people do, everyone loses.
Readers anticipate that there will be a happy ending, after all this is a novel, not “real” life. But, as in life, sometimes there is no closure, and there is none in this book. The rollercoaster ride ends; people get off; people depart, and the problems remain.
The book is quite long, too long for a five star rating, so be prepared for a long, detailed adventure. The end? Well, it ended.