Tangerine Summary and Analysis of Part One: Aug. 18 - Sept. 15


Aug. 18 As Paul and his mother drive into Florida, Paul is fascinated by the lush landscape, particularly the Tangerine trees. But as they drive through groves, they see some of the piles of trees on fire. People are making space for new housing developments. Paul is disturbed. He doesn’t understand why they’d burn all the trees rather than build houses for homeless people. They drive through housing developments that get more and more expensive-looking. Finally they reach theirs – Lake Windsor Downs – in Tangerine County.

Erik and their dad greet them in their new house. They all eat pizza and the conversation turns to Erik’s football practice. It turns out that Erik was a football star back in Houston. Their dad is obsessed with Erik’s football career. Paul isn’t. He excuses himself from the conversation and goes up to unpack his room. He hears some people at the door and goes to the top of the stairs and sees Erik talking to some teenagers. Paul writes in his journal and falls asleep. In the middle of the night and he’s awakened by the sound of Erik running downstairs, jumping in a car and driving away. As Paul lies awake, he starts to think about a zombie coming down the highway from the old house in Texas, toward Florida. He wakes up later to the sound of lighting.

Aug. 19. In the morning Paul steps outside and smells smoke. His mom calls the fire department. A fireman comes over and tells them that the smoke is coming from the earth. It’s a muck fire, normal in the area, the fireman says. He says it was caused by lightening and there’s no way to put it out. Not only are there muck fires in Tangerine, but there are also frequent thunderstorms. A storm strikes in the afternoon before Erik and his dad come home from a visit to the University of Florida where Erik hopes to get a scholarship. When they come back, they have a visit from the Costello family that lives in their housing development. Mr. Costello is the president of the Homeowner’s Association. Paul’s mom will play an active role in the Association. The Costellos also have a son named Mike who will be on Erik’s football team at Lake Windsor High. As the two families talk about football, it becomes clear that Mike isn’t as good as Erik. Mike is a benchwarmer, a backup to the quarterback. He’ll also be Erik’s ball holder for field goals. Erik, it turns out, is a star kicker. Mike seems like a friendly guy to Paul, but Paul thinks that might easily change once he gets caught up in “the Erik Fisher Football Dream.” Paul lies awake that night thinking about everyone in his family, and how each of them but him will be making their mark in Tangerine. Erik will be the star of the football team. Their dad will change the Civil Engineering Department of Tangerine County. Their mom will change the Homeowner’s Association in Lake Windsor Downs. But Paul wonders what impact he will have. He wonders whether he will he be a star goalie on the soccer team. He has the feeling that great things are expected of them in Tangerine. He has the feeling that they’re going from the major leagues to the minor leagues and they have to make their mark.

Aug. 20 In the morning Paul's dad argues with his mom about the smoke coming from outside. His dad is upset about the laziness of the fire department. After his dad leaves, Paul and his mom unpack boxes in the house together. As he’s helping her, he wonders if she actually hates moving to Florida. He realizes that if she does, she wouldn’t let anyone know. Later in the afternoon Paul and his mom go to visit Paul’s new school, the Lake Windsor Middle School. A thunder storm starts just as they arrive. They run inside a portable office and meet the principal, Mrs. Gates. Paul’s mom wants to look around, and she uses Paul as an excuse. She tells the principal that he’s legally blind, and she gestures to his thick glasses. Paul is not happy about this at all. They tour the grounds of the school. All of the classrooms are in portables surrounding a big field. Paul’s mom asks where the gym is, and Mrs. Gates says they hold P.E. outside. Paul’s mom doesn’t understand. She asks what they do in thunderstorms. Mrs. Gates tells her that when it rains they go inside. Paul asks about the soccer team and Mrs. Gates is confused. Paul explains that he’s a goalie. Mrs. Gates seems suspicious. She gets Paul to fill out an IEP – and individualized education plan, for kids with special needs. This upsets Paul a lot. As he and his mom leave the rain starts to come down. They run to the car and watch as the field gets instantly flooded. They don’t say anything to each other as they drive home, but Paul feels like they’re both upset about Tangerine.

Aug. 21 The next day the whole family goes to the high school where the head football coach, Coach Warner, is holding a three-day tryout for the football team. Erik doesn’t need to try out: their dad brought him to meet Coach Warner earlier that summer. Erik wants to be at the tryouts anyway, however. Coach Warner and their dad talk about Erik’s skills. Coach Warner describes the other most valuable player on the team, Antoine Thomas. As they’re talking, and as the players are doing exercises, a storm forms overhead. Paul’s mom gets extremely anxious about it and gets Paul to go sit in the car with her. The storm comes, and just as quickly passes. They see some kids with a soccer ball and Paul’s mom encourages him to go play. Paul runs outside and meets the kids. One of them is Mike Costello’s brother, Joey, a neighbor from their housing development. Joey and the other kids take shots on Paul. It looks like Paul is a pretty good goalie.

Aug. 27 On the first day of school, as Paul is waiting for the bus, he has a flashback to another bus stop. He remembers getting on with Erik. Some kids in the bus lineup started teasing Paul and calling him Eclipse Boy. Erik, it turned out, had told these boys that the reason that Paul’s eyes were so bad was because he looked at the sun during an eclipse. But Paul couldn’t remember that happening, and when he thinks about it now he realizes that he still doesn’t remember. He doesn’t know what happened to his eyes. At school he gets taken out of class because of the IEP form that his mother signed. Paul is being assigned an aid named Kerri. Kerri is supposed to be helping him find his way around, but on their way back to his class he tells her that he doesn’t need her help. She says that she thought his eyes were damaged and then she asks what happened to them. He tells her that he doesn’t know. Usually Paul tells people the story of the eclipse; this is the first time that Paul has ever said that he doesn’t know. He can’t figure out why he said this.

Aug. 28 Paul is thinking about how he can’t remember how he burned out his eyes. What he remembers is that he went along with the story that his brother told. In fact, he didn’t know what actually happened to his eyes.

Aug. 30 Erik brings friends to the house and Paul watches them out in the backyard from his bedroom window. There’s Arthur Bauer, Mike Costello, and two girls. Watching from above, Paul thinks that Arthur seems like a nice guy, but he thinks that might change once he spends enough time with Erik. Paul thinks about how Erik will be using Arthur as a driver, because Erik doesn’t drive. It’s a strange thing about Erik, Paul thinks. He needs a friend to drive him everywhere. Arthur will be that friend. Paul says that he has always been afraid of Erik; now he gets to be afraid of Erik and Arthur.

Aug. 31 The tryouts are happening for the soccer team the next day. Paul has some special goggles that are meant for playing sports. They’re special goggles made out of some kind of astronaut plastic. They can’t break. He brings them to tryout day. Paul thinks about his mom and his grandparents. His mom grew up in a military family and so she has good organizational skills. She has been appointed to be the chair of the architectural committee for Lake Windsor Downs—a powerful position, Paul thinks. It’s the position of approving any changes people make to their houses. That night before soccer practice Paul goes on a run with Joey Costello. They run around their housing development. As they pass a house, Joey tells Paul that the house has been hit by lightning three times. He says that the people in the house can’t get insurance and they can’t sell it.

Sept. 1 It’s the day of the soccer tryouts. Paul proves himself as the goalie, and he knows that he’s going to be the goalie of the team. Later at home, he and his mom are unpacking groceries when Erik and Arthur come home in Arthur’s mud-splattered Land Cruiser. They get out and tell Paul and his mom that Mike Costello was hit by lightning during football practice and he’s dead. They say that his hand touched the goalpost and he flew through the air. They keep saying that he was dead before he touched the ground. As they’re talking they laugh a little. Paul notices this. They describe the whole scene, how Mike was defibrillated and how the ambulance came. They also describe how Mike’s little brother, Joey, kept trying to take off Mike’s shoes. Paul and his mom are both upset. They bring in the groceries. Later Paul hears laughter in the backyard; he looks and sees Erik and Arthur making jokes about Mike and how he looked when he got hit. The joke that his hair was like a Mohawk and they laugh at his little brother trying to take the shoes off. Paul sees this, but his mother doesn’t see. Paul is devastated. He realizes that the reason they’re laughing at Mike: now that Mike’s gone, it means that Arthur will have Mike’s place, being Erik’s ball holder on the team.

Sept. 6 Paul’s mom thinks that classes should be cancelled because of the tragedy; she also thinks that the afternoon football practices should be cancelled because of the lighting. She argues with Paul’s dad about this. Paul’s dad is enjoying being close to Coach Warner. In the afternoon, while watching the football practice, Paul imagines Erik dying. He realizes that, in addition to feeling relieved and safer, he would also feel sorry, because he realizes that Erik is a part of the eclipse story—though he doesn’t know what part that is. He doesn’t want Erik to die because he doesn’t want Erik’s part of the story to be taken away. Paul’s mom is still worried about the lightning, which strikes every day in the area around 4PM. It turns out that Tangerine has the highest number of lightning strikes in the country. Paul’s mom wants an end to football practices in the afternoon. She calls up different families with sons on the team and discusses the matter with them. Paul’s dad is embarrassed about her concern: he doesn’t want to upset the coach. Nonetheless, they organize to have a family meeting at their house along with the principal of the high school and Coach Warner. At the meeting Paul’s mom speaks up and declares that they need to change the time of practice to the early morning. The coach is against this idea. Paul’s dad is embarrassed. But other people agree that it’s dangerous—in particular, Mr. Donnelly, the owner of the house that’s been struck three times, agrees. He speaks about the fact that he can’t get his house insured.

Sept. 7 Paul goes to soccer practice, feeling confident that he’s going to be on the team, but he gets called over by the soccer coach, Coach Walski, who tells him he can’t play on the team because he has an IEP. Coach Walski explains that, because of this, he can’t get insurance for Paul. Paul is devastated. He meets him mom in the car. He’s angry with her for telling the school principal that he’s legally blind. She says she's sorry; he feels miserable.

Sept. 8 It’s the day of Mike's funeral. Paul goes to the view the dead body with his parents. He’s never seen anything like it. He’s not sure how to act. People from the football team and both schools are there. Paul sees Joey and tells him that he was kicked off the team. Joey is standing with a girl named Cara, who has her arm around him. Kerri is also there. She says to Paul that she hears he’s a good soccer player. Paul doesn’t know what to say to her, so he says nothing, which he then regrets. Joey invites Paul to come with them to the carnival the next day. He says that his parents want him to have fun. They want for his life to go on.

Sept. 9 Coach Walski gives Joey tickets for the carnival. Paul’s mom drives Paul and Joey to the carnival. The carnival is in the town of Tangerine, and Paul is fascinated because he’s never seen the actual town. They’ve only gone to malls and housing developments. It looks pretty run-down, and so does the carnival. Outside of the carnival they see some kids playing with a soccer ball. They look pretty good. Paul stares, and the kids tell Paul to give him his ticket. Joey tells Paul that the kids might be in a gang. Joey and Paul hurry inside. They see the other kids. Paul is happy to see Kerri, but she doesn’t seem to notice him. She’s hanging around with a guy named Adam. They all go into the freak show together. Paul feels lonely. He loses his friends. On his way out of the freak show he sees the boys with soccer ball. When Paul’s mom picks them up later, they see the boys again. This time they’re riding in the open back of a truck. Paul’s mom remarks how dangerous that is.

Sept. 11 It pours rain all day. Paul and Joey get called into the office at school. Coach Walski is there with the principal. They’ve been called by the carnival people, who told them that some soccer players trashed the freak show. Paul tells them about the other boys. Joey agrees that there were other soccer players there. As they leave the office together, Paul tells Joey that he feels bad about ratting on the other boys. He thinks they’re going to find out who did ratted. Paul asks Joey if Kerri is with Adam. Joey says that Adam is a geek, and he doesn’t think she’s with him. The rain has been pouring all day. As they’re walking on the wooden walkways between the portables of the school they suddenly hear a whooshing sound. They look around and the see that the ground has opened up and a portable is sliding into a sinkhole. The wooden walkways snap and splinter. Realizing that other kids are in the portable, Paul runs through the mud and rain to help get them out. All the kids link arms and they help the kids climb out the hole. Another portable begins to slide too. They save all the kids When all the kids are safe, they all pile into the gym. Gino, the star of the soccer team praises Paul for his bravery. Paul goes home and tells his mom what happened. She’s horrified. That night the see their school, and the sinkhole, on CNN. Paul’s dad is upset because his boss at the civil engineering department is away, and he’s taking all the heat for the fact that school was built on a sinkhole. Paul goes to bed feeling good because of how he acted bravely. He’s still scared of Erik, but at least he was brave.

Sept. 12 All of the area around the middle school has been condemned. Parts of the neighboring high school have also been condemned, including one side of the football stands. Paul calculates that by losing half of the bleachers, Erik has lost half of his audience.

Sept. 14 Paul’s dad becomes the new director of Civil Engineering for Tangerine County after it comes out that his old boss, Charlie, had been giving out permits for all new developments in the county without doing the inspections. Lake Windsor Downs is one of the developments that never had an inspection done to it.

Sept. 15 Paul and his parents go to a school meeting about the emergency relocation plan for the school. The principal presents different options for the students to the students. One of the options is for seventh graders to go to Tangerine Middle School. What this means of Paul is that he will now no longer have an IEP and he will be able to play soccer. For Paul, this feels like a miracle. He tells his parents that this is what he wants. They agree to it.


Part One of Tangerine shows us the sinister and unstable things that lurk below the surface of a middle-class, suburban, American life. Paul Fisher’s critical view of his family and the people of Tangerine County is the lens that allows us to see what lies below this surface. In the journal entries that comprise the story, Paul says honestly the things he observes and the things he knows to be happening. As the Fisher family settles into their new home in an expensive housing development, Lake Windsor Downs, it becomes apparent that the pleasant appearance of the neighborhood has its flaws. The muck-fires that constantly erupt, causing smoke to blow around the houses, are the first revelation of this. These fires seem symbolic of smoldering problems that have yet to erupt. One of these looming problems is Erik. We know that Paul is afraid of Erik, because Paul repeatedly says so; but for a while, we don’t quite know why. It’s not until Mike Costello dies that we get our first glimpse of Erik’s cruelty as he and Arthur laugh about how Mike died. It almost seems that Erik takes pleasure in the death.

Beyond the Fisher family and Lake Windsor Downs, Part One of Tangerine presents a critical view of football and football culture. We see that Erik, the star of the football team, has a dark side, but we also see how the team negatively impacts the broader community. There seems to be little compassion for the family of Mike Costello after he dies and there’s also little concern for the safety of the other players. The football team will be the glory of Tangerine County, it seems, and the detriment of everyone around it.

While the novel presents a cultural critique of middle-class American life, it also a fascinating view of a unique place: Tangerine County in central Florida. Lake Windsor Downs is a housing development that seems to have been designed to appear “normal.” It has its standards of colors and mailbox sizes. It seems as though it could be transplanted to any other part of America and the community would stay the same. Yet the physical geography of the area transforms it into something unique. Tangerine is the county with the most lightning strikes in the entire country. The weather plays a vital role in the story—literally killing one character and then inducing the sinkhole that swallows part of the middle school. As the sinkhole opens up at the end of Part One, it becomes apparent just how much this is a novel about surfaces and what lies beneath.