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.
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.
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.
on July 20, 2000
One reads Tom Robbins for fun, philosophy and images and metaphor that continually push the envelope. The trouble with some of his earlier novels was that he lacked the control as a writer to rein-in on occasion, making some of his wilder flights of fancy almost too absurd, and his metaphors crossing over the border into sheer indulgence, corniness or both. With "Fierce Invalids," a more-mature Robbins (now in his 60s) seems to have better control, and his characters - although still wacked by any standard - are more readily discernible and, well, human. Switters may be annoying and inscrutable, but, like so many real people, he's consistently hard to pin down, and the reader emerges feeling, finally, as if he's got his arms around a Robbins character. Knowing Robbins' books are few and far between, I read "Fierce Invalids" slowly and enjoyed every word. It's fun, smart and entertaining as hell. The fact that it would offend at least half the U.S. population is just icing on the cake.
on July 13, 2000
...don't read this book. I want it all for myself. Or maybe for a few of my close personal friends so that we can have a special bond between us. This is one of those books that one wishes would remain a hidden gem, a secret society, a one time entrance to a world that is so foreign, it is painfully real.
I never read a TR novel (save the three or four times I read the first 10 pages or so of "Still life..."), but, on a lark and a recomendation from an erudite compatriot, I bought it at O'Hare airport on my way to Boston for a trip. What a perfect travelling companion! The juxtaposition between Switters' wide and varried [though, through step after luscious step eminently plausible (? )] travels (internal and external) and the surealism of airports and air-patrons and little-foods-I-refused-while-airborn was uncomfortably entertaining.
This is a book I didn't want to end. I found myself slowing my pace toward the end, in a vain attempt to hold on to the last few remnants of...
I do appologize for such ramblings. I need to just "relax."
on September 23, 2001
I've been a huge Robbins fan for a long time. Not since the beginning; I had to go back and read Another Roadside Attraction after falling in love with his other stuff, beginning with Even Cowgirls Get the Blues. Still Life With Woodpecker is wonderful. Jitterbug Perfume is sublime. I thought Tom Robbins couldn't miss. Skinny Legs and All didn't quite work for me; Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas got sort of boring; now Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates has convinced me that Tom Robbins has lost it. This is unbelievably amateurish writing. It is careless, sloppy, often just plain stupid. Robbins can still turn a phrase like no one else; there are some belly laughs here even for the most jaded Robbins fan. But he's gotten lazy, or something. He's always been preachy, but he used to work hard at integrating his sermons into his narrative. No more. There's hardly any narrative left, here. It's all sermonizing of the most painful adolescent kind. The novel reads like the work of a 16-year-old would-be novelist who is only a few years or perhaps months away from the realization that he'll never be a writer. He still thinks he can do it, though, and writes on, page after agonizing page. The difference, of course, is that Tom Robbins used to be a writer, and lost his touch. Lost touch with what a novel IS, and what feels good on the tongue and ear, and what's funny ... I personally hope he takes a sabbatical or something, and rediscovers his touch. I've been saying for 20 years that we only have one Tom Robbins. I'd like to get him back.
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.
on May 17, 2000
When the Art Girls spirited boat competition reaches full throttle and the two most ambitious combatents create a Christ that walks on water followed by one that additionally pulled skis, the end was indeed near for me, I nearly choked to death on my own laughter.
Robbins has the genius to tickle the delightful parts of our brain just enough to open us to the realization that ANYTHING is possible and then he justs pours in the slippery suggestions and what a wonderful ride it is. Much more than just reading a story I actually feel as if my senses are more keen and aware and the comedy of daily life more apparent as I trundle thru my work day with bits and flashes of last night and this mornings quick reads spinning thru my memory.
I am now just 3/4 of the way thru it and the truth is I am writing this review as a way to keep myself occupied so I don't go getting all greedy and finish it tonight. So actually I don't know about the "outcome" of this romanti-tragi-comedy but I am absolutely certain I don't want it to end. If anyone has an idea for how to morph a book with an everlasting gobstopper? ......PLEASE COME FORTH
on October 13, 2000
It is written in the Koran -- you will come to know if you read this book -- that, "The gates of paradise open wide for he who can make his companions laugh." And wide will the gates of paradise open for Tom Robbins when he takes his celestial walk. This is a hilariously funny trip inspired by the author's vivid imagination. Fans of Tom Robbins, of which I am one, have come to realize (as he told us in Still Life With Woodpecker) that just when you think you are settling into a good story, you discover philosophy is what you're getting. This latest work is long on story and short on philosophy (as compared to Woodpecker), but what uplifting philosophy it is.
One could describe the plot, but it just would not matter. Plots for Robbins are just a vehicle for the author's vibrantly witty iconoclastic social commentary. The protagonist of this story, a re-called CIA agent named Switters, has been accused by many reviewers as being unsympathetic. Personally I think this aversion has to do with a collective uncomfortableness over his being confined to a wheelchair for most of the plot. Switters is cursed by a medicine man in a Peruvian jungle and his death is foretold in the event his feet ever again touch the ground. Based upon what happened to his previously cursed companion, Switters takes the curse to heart and secures himself in a wheelchair for prophylactic purposes. Shed your fears and let your feet touch the ground: is the overly embellished variation of the "smell the roses" theme which is a common thread to all of this authors work.
The author's mission, in the guise of story-telling, is to rescue the human race from its tragic flaw: prideful narcissism. "Isn't that where all this `seriousness' comes from? A dilated ego?'" We must set ourselves free, Robins urges, and purge ourselves of societal taboos ("superstitions with fangs on them, [which] if not transcended, puncture the brain and drain the spirit"). Robins coaxes us to behave like the Ancient Greeks and Hindus. "As a path to liberation, these golden Greeks and holy Hindus would deliberately break any and all of their culture's prevailing taboos in order to loosen their hold, destroy their power. It was an active, somewhat radical method of triumphing over fear by confronting that which frightened embracing it, dancing with it, absorbing it, and moving past it. It was a casting out of demons." Along with philosophy, you get some anthropology as well.
Tom Robbins, like Thomas Pynchon (who gives Robbins high praise on the inside dust-cover --- need one say more!?!), is somewhat a recluse. He does not partake of the promotional hype by which other authors hawk their books, and even the About-the-Author- descriptions that append his books provide very little information. He is an under-appreciated literary treasure. The body of his work (this is his seventh novel) is Jungian philosophy as kitsch entertainment, and yes: "Everything is connected. But the links can sometimes be hard to uncover." p. 286.
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.