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on April 20, 2007
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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on June 19, 2003
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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on January 6, 2007
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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on July 23, 2004
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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on January 23, 2004
Having gotten the book as an audio cassette it is only proper to critique Keith Szarabajka, the reader. He did a truly excellent job of narrating the story and providing the voices for all the characters.
The story in the book is a bit contrived even though Robbins fits all the pieces together. By the time I reached the fourth part I was no longer particularly interested in Switters' taboo. I was also annoyed that a South American tribe is depicted as being devoid of a sense of humor, not knowing what laughter is. No such tribes exist. Laughter is universal. This is not just nitpicking because this matter of laughter is a major element in the book. Still the writing is first rate and I found Switters an interesting character even if he does come across at times as an overgrown adolescent.
Since Switters is supposedly modeled after a friend of Robbins, several weeks after finishing the book what I find msyelf wondering about is how accurately Robbins depicts the CIA. Are there really "angels" like Switters and Bobby Cox, people driven more by idealism than by national intetests? At one time I would have considered such a possibilty to be preposeterous. Yet the current news is full of an apparent conflict between the White House and CIA. CIA agent Joe Wilson was sent to Niger to uncover information about uranium being sent to Iraq. When Wilson publicly announced that he did not find any evidence of such a connection someone in the White House retaliated by blowing the cover of Wilson's wife, also a CIA agent. Kind of makes you wonder.
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on November 7, 2003
Merely attempting to review a tome by Tom Robbins denotes hubris and a foolish vanity. Mr Robbin's writing is disrespectful, dirty, and droolingly delicious.
In his other books brief moments of genius and salsa importuned and opportuned in spotty brilliance.
In this book depth theme structure even suspense are held throughout. This is his most consistent offering. It is consistently excellent.
Just the sentences, regardless of context, are worth the price. Pick almost any paragraph, read it and savor it. The best thing about this book is that unlike a good meal "Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates" can be enjoyed again.
Plotting is much more steady than in other efforts, including Another Roadside Attraction which this book resembles slightly with its anti establishment, anti authoritarian schemes and themes.
A shaman in a cave in "Cowgirls" is called to memory as the hero/anti-hero Switters investigates the psycho psupernatural.
We follow the lead here and he doesn't disappoint, though he scares a bit with his tastes. While not a perfect book, we're happy to ride along with Switters in his four wheeled hand powered starship because not only is he pure, but whenever the impetus of the book dwindles just a tad, the music, olfactory delights and savory flavors of the language itself compel us on paddling downstream seeking out the delicate sweet,salt,bitter,and sour sensations.
Don't read this book if you are easily offended. There's a joy in offending here.
There is joy here.
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on June 7, 2003
All around me, people seemed enthralled with Tom Robbins, so I decided that maybe I should read something of his. This was the only one at the used book store, so I picked it out, (I'm beginning to think this was a mistake). First impressions never die, and I'll have to say it's unlikely that I'll read another Tom Robbins book, even if you promise me they're all better.
"Switters is a contradiction for all seasons ..." says the back of the book. I find his contradictions no more unusual than the average person, (by this I mean the average real person, not the average book character, who is much more predictable). Fortunately, these contradictions just make him more human and less stereotypically book-like. Now whether Tom meant for that or not is a different matter ....
Tom's writing style depends so strictly on vocabulary. He's surpassed elegant and flowery and gone right on to complicated. For the narrator, this style is fine ... some people use giant words to spice up their syntax. But Tom has done this for ALL of his characters, (with the exception of Suzy). Though each character does have a few of their own sayings, (such Domino's "Ooo-la-la"'s and Bobby's very Texan expressions), they can all begin to sound very much the same. Tom Robbins, Swittes, Maestra, Potney, and Dromio, (despite her "struggles" with English), all use the same complicated, verbose style.
Also, Tom seems to rely so heavily on his vocabulary that without his eleven letter long words, his style would be nearly nothing.
As for the story itself, it was interesting, untill he popped out of the jungle. After this the plot seems to degenerate and nothing he does has any direction: it'll drag on a bit. But I find it disheartening that Tom always has to resort to sex to keep the reader interested, (yeah, "vivid" is the right word). From his erotic moth on page two, to continued obessions on page 415, he is always resorting to sex ... it's as if this provocative theme is the only thing keeping the sixteen year old boy reading it from putting it down. Anything with sex sells.
But I did chuckle a few times, and I love Maestra, and there were a number of thoughts, (as the narrator ranted), that I had to underline. There are some points to make you think, and Switter's adventures in South America are page-turning-adventure. Sadly though, I don't think it's worth all the praise it's gotten. I know people who own all his books, and when Tom Robbins came to town the blocked off the road a mile around the bookstore ... this book didn't really show me why.
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on April 3, 2003
Only his exquisite agility with metaphor, alongside the accessibility of cultural idiosyncrasy innate in his writing allows Tom Robbins' <Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates>, to fly with readers previous enlightened by his work. Much like his other novels, <Fierce Invalids> is remarkably insightful and rich in the 'pop mythology' he pens so well. But of all the novels in the Robbins litter, in terms of manifest compostional prowess, <Fierce Invalids> is, unfortunately for Robbins' die-hards, the runt.
Switters, irresponsible C.I.A. agent-on-probation and main character, is not especially endearing, although I found myself cherishing his 'slicker-than-slick' pretenses and his slightly desperate, continually thwarted attempts to seduce his young stepsister. Switters is inescapably narcissistic, an ego with legs, but therein lies the irony; due to a curse placed on him by a Peruvian shaman with a pyramid-shaped head, Switters lacks the use of them throughout most of the plot.
This curse, and his belief in it, builds a great deal of the story; Switters discovers what the world looks like from two inches up, either in a wheelchair, or on stilts when in Syria, naturally. He is, if not exactly torn, slightly stretched by his desire for both the stepsister and a middle-aged nun, obsessed with a Picasso, and does his best to meet the Pope.
Although unsurprisingly Robbins-esque and fun for light-hearted fans, this is not a novel I would recommend for first time readers of this author, simply because of its busy-ness. For readers who desire a similar style of narrative but a change of scenery from Robbins' often overwhelming landscapes, Richard Grant's <Tex and Molly in the Afterlife> is an easy and enjoyable read.
<Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates> and his other novels are, in their eloquence, excessively blasé and shamelessly entertaining, and Tom Robbins knows it. The main dictum his stories seem to follow is a paradox of wisdom and ignorance; positioned at the acme of world comprehension as we are in his narratives, we have the freedom to realise that we know nothing, and to acknowledge that, perhaps, finding the 'truth' isn't what matters after all.
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on February 12, 2003
In May of 2000, while running through LAX to catch my flight, I saw, out the corner of my eye, "Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates" displayed at the aiport bookstore. Though I nearly risked being late for my flight, I dashed into the bookstore, bought it, and read happily, nonstop, abandoning everything I was SUPPOSED to be reading. I hadn't even known a new title was being released, so I couldn't believe my good fortune. A Tom Robbins novel for a four hour flight! Ever since "Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas," I had been eagerly awaiting, praying almost, for a new novel. During those six long years, I reread all his other books. "Jitterbug Perfume" is my favorite, followed by a tie between "Skinny Legs and All" and "Still Life with Woodpecker." So I am a big fan, which is important to contextualize my disappointment in this book! Yes, I was delighted by much of it: the synchronistic plot twists and character connections, the bizarre situations and exotic locales, his signature brillance with word play, his inevitable references to mythology, politics, and philosophy, and his ever engaging characters, that is, except for Switters. Switters is the quintessence of the eternal boy imbued with narcissism and an unnecessary dose of misogynisism. Don't begin your foray into Tom Robbins with this book. I am undaunted. Although I had not reread this book, I still plan to pre-order "Villa Incognito," due out in April, which I hope deliveres what Robbins is capapable of providing.
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on November 29, 2002
I loved this book. I read this book only ten pages at a time. After each sitting I would swim in what I had read, wanting the book, this pocketful of uncomfortably honest ideas, not to end. I loved the attitude of the protagonist and the author, which lifted the spirits on every page. You can tell the author loves words, he loves people, and all the baggage that comes with them. This is a very important book. There is real meaning in every page and the wonder of fresh perspective leaps out. I imagine almost any seeker who reads this could feel connected to this book. As would the lover of English language.
I love the way he concisely captures human interchange. Describing a manner of flirting:
Not infrequently, he'd spot one of them in the market again and exchange with her one of those futily desirous smiles that are like domestic postage on a letter to a foreign destination. (186)
What a way to describe the perfunctory nature of the countless harmless street flirts !
The book is about the quest for truth - the truth of the soldier, the truth of the wise man, the truth of the romantic, the truth of the outcast. The protagonist, Switters, aims to be a sort of amalgam of these. He is an agnostic, perhaps even an atheist, but he is a decent man who believes in and practices integrity. And he has aspects of a holy, God-aware man. And which person who seeks to find truth is not seeking to be closer to God?
There are 4 parts to this book, each centered aronud a different mini-quest in Switter's immediate life. Part 1 treats the topic of Switter's trip to South America, which involves a mystical communion with a completely different value system, that of the Kandankandero Native American. Part 2 is about Switters attemtps at relationship with his love, innocent and sexual, for Suzy, who is taboo of sorts. Part 3 is about Switters in the Middle East, finding a wholly different (yet similar) kind of love with the radical nun Domino. And Part 4 is the anti-climax of sorts, the apotheosis of an absolute, happy ending.
There is no topic off-topic in this book. The boundaries between ideas shed themselves as the author's mind explores new possibilities, interfaces, and dicoveries. Robbins alternatingly (but connectedly) ponders language, sacredness, paradox, innocence, romance, culture, and subversion. They retain the readable nature of an internal dialogue. Politics, religion, sex, spirituality, culture, language, these are the themes treated in this book. Even when I didn't agree with the author, I had to admit he has an enormous charm and sensitivity.
He stretches language to its limits, but you bask in his creativity, which is rarely presumptuous and usually a source of joy.
copyright 2002 o.a. azam
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