"They were perfect. Thousands upon thousands of trees in the red glow of sundown, perfectly shaped and perfectly aligned, vertically and horizontally, like squares in a million-square grid."
When Paul first lays eyes on the tangerine groves of Tangerine County, he is in awe. He sees the beauty of the trees and this beauty is captured in his language. This marks is first introduction to the agricultural production and field workers, whom he will soon come to love.
"I woke up in the dark to the sound of an explosion. I groped around for my regular glasses--unable to find them in this new bedroom, upstairs in this new house. Then my glasses suddenly appeared on the nightstand, illuminated by a flash of lightning."
This is the first of many lightning strikes to happen in the novel. It's Paul's first night in Tangerine and he's woken by a bolt. This strike foreshadows more lightning to come–specifically the lightning that will kill the neighbor, Mike Costello. It also shows one of the unique physical realities of life in Tangerine.
"Mom would never say it, but I bet we were thinking the same thing. What else has dad overlooked about Tangerine?"
When Paul and his mom go to visit the Lake Windsor Middle School they experience of a flash-flood. The rain comes down so fast and suddenly that the entire school gets flooded and the fields become filled with water. The school principal tells them it happens all the time.
"I walked past dark green Dumpsters filled with plasterboard and scrap metal, past blue portable toilets parked along the construction lots. It occurred to me that I've never lived in a development that was finished. I have always lived with overflowing construction Dumpsters and portable toilets sitting on boards."
This view of the unfinished parts of the Lake Windsor housing development is a glimpse of the imperfections of a place that is intended to look perfect. In this moment we also see that Lake Windsor is a new place: unlike the town of Tangerine, Lake Windsor hasn't been around for long. As Paul will later conclude, it is a place that doesn't have roots.
"But if that's the truth, if that really happened, why can't I remember?"
Paul has just been asked by a girl at school what happened to his eyes. For the first time in his life, he has said that he doesn't know. Up until this moment he has always told people a story that he was told, about looking at a solar eclipse. This time, though, he says that he doesn't know. His own words confuse him, but he's beginning to question the story of the solar eclipse.
"I'm in my room now, at the computer, listening to the sound of Erik kicking a football into a net in the backyard. It's a short, violent sound, like some big guys holding up some little guy and punching him over and over in the stomach. Poomph. Poomph. Poomph."
This sinister glimpse of Erik is one of the first in the novel. At this stage we still don't know why Paul is afraid of him; but in this moment we get to see something about how Paul is afraid of him. The violence of the kicking sound reflects Paul's feelings about Erik's actions. He associates the sound with a scene of someone being beaten up. Not coincidentally, the source of the sound it a football. This is one of Paul's first negative impressions of that sport.
"What if Erik was the body at the undertakers now? How would I feel about that?
I would feel relieved. I would feel safer. But I would feel sorry, too. Erik is a part of that eclipse story. I know he is. Erik is a part of whatever it is that I need to remember. I don't want Erik to die and take his part of the story with him."
The essence of Paul's relationship to Erik is revealed when Paul explicitly states that he would feel better if Erik died. The only thing attaching him to Erik is his desire to solve the mystery of his damaged eyes. He needs to solve that mystery in order to be free of its hold on him. Ultimately, when he does solve the mystery, he is no longer afraid of Erik. But that doesn't bring him any closer to Erik. At the end of the novel Paul has no sympathy for Erik, when it looks as though Erik may go to jail.
"It's not enough to say that we have won every soccer game in a row. It's how we've done it that is so extraordinary. The War Eagles have set out a 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."
Paul is empowered by being a part of the War Eagles, the best soccer team in the county. But it's not just winning that he loves: he also loves the feeling of instilling fear in the other teams. For the first time in his life he gets a taste of what it's like to be on the other side of fear. This experience will ultimately help him overcome his fear of Erik.
"In Lake Windsor Downs, the people were inside, welcoming the freeze with hot cocoa and fake logs and Christmas CD's. In Tangerine, the people were heading out to fight it with axes and shovels and burning tires."
During the freeze, the difference between Lake Windsor Downs and Tangerine couldn't be more stark, and Paul sees this difference clearly. He thinks of Lake Windsor cynically, as he joins the Cruz family to work through the night to save the trees. The satisfaction he gets on this night comes from the hard work and solidarity, something the people of Lake Windsor know nothing about.
' " We wanted to find a way to keep you from always hating your brother."
I answered, "So you figured it would be better if I just hated myself?"'
That did it. Dad was finished. He broke down.
In the moment of revelation, when Paul finds out what happened to his eyes when he was a child, he confronts his parents and demands they tell him why they didn't tell him what happened. His response to his dad's statement about not wanting him to hate his brother captures the essence of his relationship with his parents. By protecting Erik, they allowed Paul to live in confusion and to hate himself. In this climactic scene, his parents finally recognize their problematic role in their sons' lives. They both break down.
Tangerine Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Tangerine is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.