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June 2001

Capital Pages

Seven wacky works by bestselling author Tom Robbins

Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates ***
by Tom Robbins
Bantam Books, 2000
Tom Robbins has an uncanny knack for conveying the zeitgeist of modern society. With wide-reaching (and far-fetched) ideas and philosophies, his novels are so offbeat they almost read like works of science fiction or those of conspiracy theorists. His latest novel, Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates, is another prime example of this talent—and is one of his best.
Eccentric CIA operative Switters is the driving force of the story, which takes place in Seattle, Washington, D.C., Peru, Turkey and Syria. Owing to a chain of unlikely events precipitated by his 84-year-old grandmother and a mutant Peruvian shaman, Switters is forced to go on a quest to discover the mystery of his own existence—or have it changed, forever. Helping him along the way are a cast of charming characters, including grandmother Maestra—tough as nails and addicted to computer hacking—best friend and fellow CIA agent Bobby Case—a Texas cowboy with a calling to spread the word about meditation—and Sister Domino—a magnetic, US-educated, exiled French nun living cloistered in an abbey in the middle of the Syrian desert. It sounds ridiculous, and it is, but any reader who up with the times will be hard pressed to finish the novel without having found a passage that, almost eerily, addresses issues plucked straight from his/her day, or having managed to translate a personal, abstract thought into words.
It’s tempting to read Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates in one sitting, but that would be missing a most entertaining ride on the English-language roller coaster. It’s worth every minute of attempting to understand just where Robbins is trying to take the reader with his seemingly silly tangents and metaphors—more often than not they are keys to a very visual world and add extra value to this already enjoyable and thought-provoking piece of 21st-century fiction. <<

Other books by Tom Robbins:
Another Roadside Attraction, 1971
Unmistakably written in the 1960s, Robbins’ first novel revolves around a clairvoyant named Amanda, a flea circus and the second coming. Although containing all the elements a Robbins fan cherishes (sex, drugs and higher plains), this, at times difficult, book may not be an ideal introduction to the author’s work.

Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, 1976
This is the story of Sissy Hankshaw, a woman with enormous thumbs and master of Zen hitchhiking. The novel is essentially about love and sexual roles, drawing from the culture (and subculture) of the time in which it was written. The 1993 film directed by Gus Van Sant doesn’t come close to conveying the depth and humor found in the work that made Robbins famous. Compulsory reading.

Still Life with Woodpecker, 1980
Starring Bernard Wrangle, red-headed outlaw; Leigh-Cheri, exiled princess; the moon and its effect on the menstrual cycle, a Camel cigarette pack and the author himself, who wrote the novel on his new Remington SL3 typewriter. This is a book about love, sex and commitment—suitably written at the end of the excessive 1970s and the beginning of the New Age. Very funny.

Jitterbug Perfume, 1984 Thought by many to be Robbins’ best, this is one of those novels readers wish would, like the lives of the main characters, go on forever. Swirling around the theme of eternal life and the perception of time, this entertaining, touching and thought-provoking book jumps from the present to the mythological past and back again. An excellent introduction to Robbins’ novels. Skinny Legs and All, 1990
While all of Tom Robbins’ novels deal largely with spirituality, this one is the author’s first direct pot shot at organized religion. Among his targets are the Israeli conflict and southern evangelist Christianity. Though heavy on Endzeit philosophies, the book still manages to be upbeat. In fact, this book should not be read outside the home—unless, of course, you don’t mind letting out a loud laugh in public. Robbins is able to convey, with wonderfully eloquent and creative language, the milieu of his modern subject matter. Ties for first place on the T.R. hit parade.

Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas, 1994
In Frog Pajamas, the author slips into the second person narrative for the first time. The protagonist, Gwen, is a Filipino stockbroker in 1990s Seattle at the time of a market dive. She finds herself in a series of strange situations involving gurus, fortune-tellers, monkeys, frogs, colon cancer and Sirius the dog star. While entertaining, this novel lacks soul—but, then again, so did the era in which it’s set. <<<

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