From Publishers Weekly
Donald Barthelme once said, "Those who never attempt the absurd never achieve the impossible." Robbins (Still Life with Woodpecker; Jitterbug Perfume; etc.) has made a career of attempting and achieving both, and in this, his eighth novel, he pulls it off again. Here we have weirdness personified, a quirky, outrageous concoction that is a joy to the imagination. The novel begins with the story of Tanuki, a badgerlike Asian creature with a reputation as a changeling and trickster and a fondness for sake. Also part of the cast is a beautiful young woman who may or may not have Tanuki's blood in her veins (but definitely does have a chrysanthemum seed embedded in the roof of her mouth), and three American MIAs who have chosen to remain in Laos long after the Vietnam War. Events are set in motion when one of the MIAs, dressed as a priest, is arrested with a cache of heroin taped to his body. In vintage Robbins style, the plot whirls every which way, as the author, writing with unrestrained glee, takes potshots at societal pillars: the military, big business and religions of all ilks. The language is eccentric, electrifying and true to the mark. A few examples: "The afternoon passed more slowly than a walnut-sized kidney stone"; "He crooned the way a can of cheap dog food might croon if a can of cheap dog food had a voice"; "Dickie's heart felt suddenly like an iron piano with barbwire strings and scorpions for keys." While the ending is a bit of a letdown, this is delectable farce, full of tantalizing secrets and bizarre disguises.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Robbins opens with a folkloric tale, set in Japan, of a tanuki--
a raccoonlike wild dog with enormous testicles and a thirst for sake--who marries a woman and sires a daughter before angry gods break up the union. Jumping to the present, the arrest of a drug-smuggling priest in Guam--actually an MIA American who disappeared on a bombing run over Vietnam--threatens to blow the cover of his flight crew, who chose to remain incognito in Laos after the war had ended. The two stories are linked by a circus performer who may be the descendant of the original interspecies romance. While the flyers are featured players, the supporting cast includes an earthy military intelligence officer, a cold-blooded CIA spook, and a woman with a sexual attraction to clowns. The largest theme centers on the nature of identity, but there's a lot swirling around the kitchen sink, including a fleeting incorporation of the events of 9/11. It's a fun read, although the things about Robbins that his fans love--clever wordplay, nudging asides, and political and philosophical digressions--are the same things that infuriate the nonbelievers, and for them, this short work may seem slow. He remains something of a poor man's Vonnegut, lacking the careful measure necessary to bake his notions into a cake that won't fall. Keir GraffCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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