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Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates [Hardcover]

Tom Robbins
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (182 customer reviews)

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Book Description

May 2 2000
"Tom Robbins has a grasp on things that dazzles the brain and he's also a world-class storyteller."
--Thomas Pynchon

In Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates, his seventh and biggest novel, the wise, witty, always gutsy Tom Robbins brings onstage the most complex and compelling character he has ever created.

Switters is a contradiction for all seasons: an anarchist who works for the government, a pacifist who carries a gun, a vegetarian who sops up ham gravy, a cyberwhiz who hates computers, a robust bon vivant who can be as squeamish as any fop, a man who, though obsessed with the preservation of innocence, is aching to deflower his high-school-age stepsister (only to become equally enamored of a nun ten years his senior).

Yet there is nothing remotely wishy-washy about Switters. He doesn't merely pack a pistol. He is a pistol.

And as we dog Switters's strangely elevated heels across four continents, in and out of love and danger, Robbins explores, challenges, mocks, and celebrates virtually every major aspect of our mercurial era.

As many readers well know, to describe a Tom Robbins plot does not begin to describe a Tom Robbins novel. Moreover, the internationally acclaimed, best-selling author, with his love of language, nuance, and surprise, is as opposed to story summations as J.D. Salinger. It is revealing, however, to learn what things Robbins lists as having influenced the writing of Fierce Invalids:

"This book was inspired by an entry from Bruce Chatwin's journal, by a CIA agent I met in Southeast Asia, by the mystery surrounding the lost prophecy of the Virgin of Fatima, by the increasing evidence that the interplay of opposites is the engine that runs the universe, and by embroidered memories of old Terry and the Pirates comic books."

Robbins also has said that throughout the writing of Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates he was guided by the advice of Julia Child: "Learn to handle hot things. Keep your knives sharp. Above all, have a good time."

Perhaps that is why he has managed to write a provocative, rascally novel that takes no prisoners--and yet is upbeat, romantic, meaningful, adventurous, edifying, and fun.

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From Amazon

The fierce invalid in Tom Robbins's seventh novel is a philosophical, hedonistic U.S. operative very loosely inspired by a friend of the author. "Sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll are enormously popular in the CIA," claims Switters. "Not with all the agents in the field, but with the good ones, the brightest and the best." Switters isn't really an invalid, but during his first mission (to set free his ornery grandma's parrot, Sailor, in the Amazon jungle), he gets zapped by a spell cast by a "misshapen shaman" of the Kandakandero tribe named End of Time. The shaman is reminiscent of Carlos Castaneda's giggly guru, but his head is pyramid-shaped. In return for a mind-bending trip into cosmic truth--"the Hallways of Always"--Switters must not let his foot touch the earth, or he'll die.

Not that a little death threat can slow him down. Switters simply hops into a wheelchair and rolls off to further footloose adventures, occasionally switching to stilts. For a Robbins hero, to be just a bit high, not earthbound, facilitates enlightenment. He bops from Peru to Seattle, where he's beguiled by the Art Girls of the Pike Place Market and his 16-year-old stepsister, and then off to Syria, where he falls in with a pack of renegade nuns bearing names like Mustang Sally and Domino Thirry. Will Switters see Domino tumble and solve the mystery of the Virgin Mary? Can the nuns convince the Pope to favor birth control--to "zonk the zygotic zillions and mitigate the multitudinous milt" and "wrest free from a woman's shoulders the boa of spermatozoa?" Can the author ever resist a shameless pun or a mutant metaphor?

The tangly plot is almost beside the point. Switters is a colorful undercover agent, and a Robbins novel is really a colorful undercover essay celebrating sex and innocence, drugs and a firm wariness of anything that tries to rewire the mind, and Broadway tunes, especially "Send in the Clowns." Some readers will be intensely offended by Switters's yen for youth and idiosyncratic views on vice. But fans will feel that extremism in the pursuit of serious fun is virtue incarnate. Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates is classic Tom Robbins: all smiles, similes, and subversion. --Tim Appelo

From Publishers Weekly

Fans of Robbins (Jitterbug Perfume; Still Life with Woodpecker) will be delighted to find that his first book in almost six years contains many of the elements they have come to expect from this imaginative author. Sex, sedition and similes abound in a tale of loves both indictable and divine. Unlike Robbins's previous work, however, the novel's story line, though typically eclectic, feels contrived. Switters, the protagonist, is an errand boy for the CIA, a secret lover of Broadway show tunes and a pedophile. On assignment in Peru (he has been ordered to verify the philosophical commitment of a new CIA recruit), Switters encounters a Kandakandero medicine man who gives him mind-altering drugs and wisdom, but in exchange inflicts a curse: if Switters's feet ever touch the ground, he will be struck dead instantly. So Switters spends the rest of the novel in a wheelchair, although this in no way slows him down. He returns to Seattle, chases after his 16-year-old stepsister and numerous art students, then embarks on a mission to Syria to sell gas masks to Kurds; there, he beds a nun who even so remains a virgin. In true Robbins style, the writing throughout is lush and sexy, containing a great deal of witty social and political commentary. But this time around, his story fails to catch hold until too far into the text. And although Robbins's signature prose is in effect here--he mentions, for example, "a pink wink of panty"--he leaves too many loose ends dangling. Agent, Phoebe Larmore. (May)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Second Tier April 20 2007
Format:Paperback
Tom Robbins is the Grand Master of simile and metaphor, capable of incredible invention of unique characters exploring cosmic and comic themes in weird locales. His "Skinny Legs and All" is one of THE must-read books, and "Jitterbug Perfume" is also outstanding. Most of his earlier works richly reward the reader, with the exception of the pitiful toss-off "Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas".

Unfortunately, "Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates" isn't quite up to the level of his greatest work. It will still stop you cold with an image, a rhythm, an insight or a laugh, but there's a sense that Robbins had a lot of potential paths he considered following, that he wandered a ways down several of them, and in the end, he decided none of them really led anywhere in particular, so he might as well end it fast. The result is that you're stimulated, inspired, intrigued, amused, and finally thoughtful, but ultimately a bit disappointed. It's like you gave Leonardo paint, canvas, and brushes, and he created the Mona Lisa, but gave her Alfred E. Newman's smile and walked away. It's a comical take with clear evidence of genius, but you feel like a masterpiece got missed.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Doesn't live up to my robbins expectations June 19 2003
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
I would say that I'm a big Tom Robbins fan.
And a huge part of my adoration of him comes from his amazing female charecters. So when I picked up this one and realized the main character was a guy, I was kind of dissapointment.
The dissapointment followed me throughout the entire book, which still has the tangly and outlandish plot of a classic Robbins, but I just couldn't fall in love with Switters and therefore didn't fall in love with this book either. Switters is no Sissy Hankshaw or Ellen Cherry.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Above the rest March 9 2011
By JB
Format:Paperback
If you have not read any Tom Robbins yet this would be a brilliant place to start. Tom Robbins has a way of weaving words and images that will have you re-reading pages again and again in amazement. His grasp of the English language and how to use it leaves one in pure delight and relief. You will find yourself laughing out loud on many occasions. This is an amazing vacation book or something to read when you have time to really sit and soak up large sections of what this gifted storyteller has to share with us. Regards
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5.0 out of 5 stars Tom Robbins, my hero Jan. 5 2011
By Amelia
Format:Paperback
Wow, yet another masterpiece by Tom Robbins. I ADORE the main character and even catch myself occasionally talking like him now! A definite must-read if you like dark, quirky senses of humor.
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4.0 out of 5 stars The Tao of Tom Robbins Jan. 7 2007
Format:Paperback
A poet, a philosopher, a polygon, there are many sides to author Tom Robbins. We see this in his earlier novels: In Another Roadside Attraction, he replaces paranoia and cynicism of Catholism, secret societies and conspiracy theories with humor and fun; in Skinny Legs and All, he spins a prosaic punchline around politics, religion, art and sex; in Jitterbug Perfume, we get a colorful allegory that travels over a period of a thousand years and traces the life of Pan, the god of nature, and a bottle of perfume that's the essence of the universe.

In Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates, Robbins again does a remarkable job of pulling in the secrets of history, religion, and anthropology, adding myth, magic and metaphor to present-day events, without being a heavy-handed preacher. The characters aren't as colorfully absurd and outrageously zany as they were in his previous works, but you won't forget them nevertheless. And his zest for language and life is sure poetry; his message is as sinuous and sly as the line in the yin-yang symbol.

Fierce Invalids lays it out for you clearly, faithfully.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Fierce book in a hot climate March 31 2005
Format:Paperback
Tom's books represent, literally and figuratively, everything unique and fun about this country. Tom has the uncanny knack of not just pouring you the juice by which to quench your soul's thirst, but also inserting a life line I.V. to ensure it hits its' target. No effort asides from sitting still and allowing the juice to run its' course is required. Needless to say Tom's juice is full of paradox, adventure, laughter, and philosophical meanderings. Simultaneously acting as a stimulant, an aphrodisiac, an hallucinogen, and a guided meditation, this book, like all of Tom's work, is, more than a great story, it's Finnegan's Wake-up call to the cultural malaise of the one true enemy: a mundane existence; a life without curiosity. Also highly recommended would be McCrae's CHILDREN'S CORNER and the great and funny GRAVITY'S RAINBOW.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Me likeee July 23 2004
By A Customer
Format:Audio Cassette
With a typical tangled, tangy, tawdry, turgid, tenacious, and tantalizing Robbins plot (Oh, dear, should I have said "Robust, rowdy, randy, rambunctious, rollicking?"), the mayor of Far-Fetched Land (uh, that would be Robbins) does it once again. Whew. Now. For those who adored EVEN COWGIRLS, STILL LIFE WITH WOODPECKER, ETC., you will absolutely love FIERCE INVALIDS. Sorry, don't mean to scream at you. If you don't like a good Tom Robbins novel, please, call an ambulance-more than likely you're already dead. Still, that's no reason not to buy this book.
Wacky? You bet. Robbins has a knack for plots that will keep your head spinning, yet somehow, these things he comes up with are believable. Don't ask me how he does it. Please see (what some have termed a "synopsis") of this novel (the book description above is good) because I can't even begin to tell you what it's about. The only other authors who come even CLOSE to Robbins are Boyle (think his WATER MUSIC) and McCrae in his BARK OF THE DOGWOOD. Yes, Robbins is an original, but these three have something in common: great writing, weird-land plots, characters that you'll fall in love with, and a sense of timing that Jerry Seinfield would envy. I was so worried I'd be disappointed in INVALIDS (I had visions of an old-folks retirement home), but I have to say that this is one of the most stellar, startling, strange, strung-out, and sensational reads I've come across in years.
Also recommended: EVEN COWGIRLS GET THE BLUES and ANOTHER ROADSIDE ATTRACTION. I'll stop yelling now.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars WOW!
With two exceptions, I can never decide which Tom Robbins book I love more. This is definately up there with the best! Read more
Published on July 4 2004 by A. White
5.0 out of 5 stars Robbins in the Amazon
Robbins is right on form with this one! My only criticism is that his protagonist is an anarchist CIA agent with child-molesting tendencies. Which is, of course, ridiculous. Read more
Published on July 1 2004 by Zeeshan Hasan
5.0 out of 5 stars Pulitzer Prize Winner
Never having reviewed a book before on Amazon...I was appauled, yes, literally appauled, to see that readers have rated this a four star book. Read more
Published on June 2 2004 by Lauren Cleaver
5.0 out of 5 stars I wish his books could go on forever!
You know the feeling you get near the end of a song or a movie you love,that you wish could go on and on forever? Read more
Published on April 21 2004 by Thalia Logotheti
5.0 out of 5 stars well worth it, glad i read it
this was recommended by a friend and i felt embarrased i had not read it first. a cool adventure, it is just pure literature. Read more
Published on March 21 2004 by gcon
4.0 out of 5 stars Intense euphoria
I've recently red "Fierce invalids" and as always the result was an intense feeling of euphoria. I really loved it, almost as much as "Jitterbug perfume". Read more
Published on March 18 2004 by Effie BASDRAS
4.0 out of 5 stars Weak story but otherwise excellent
Having gotten the book as an audio cassette it is only proper to critique Keith Szarabajka, the reader. Read more
Published on Jan. 23 2004 by Martin P. Cohen
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