I’ve known about Tom Robbins for awhile, although I’d not read him until very recently, like six months ago when I picked up a copy of Tibetan Peach Pie on one of those Amazon Prime free deals or something. Yeah, I’m on Amazon Prime. Shoot me. Anyways, I’d always relegated him to the “gonzo” side of writing, alongside the sillier Ken Kesey (any of the Merry Prankster stories), Confederacy of Dunces, that stuff, but Pie was good, really good, laugh out loud good, so when I ran across this one, purported to be Robbins’ best novel, I said, what the hell. And read it.
What the hell?
There’s a certain type of writing that simply wearies. It’s a self-regarding style in love with itself, with how clever and precocious and insightful the author is, and look how precocious we are for admiring it and we’re really sticking it to the man and the rubes and, really, that stance is good for about ten pages and then it’s boring. Just. Boring.
About ten pages into this novel, I was bored. Why?
Because it’s not about anything.
Now, having no plot is actually an excellent plot, like Catcher in the Rye and Ulysses, but the difference between that and this is having a point. This doesn’t. It’s the Seinfeld of novels: clever and layered and complex and completely directionless. But unlike Seinfeld, not entertaining. At all.
The story centers on Sissy Hankshaw, who is a world class hitchhiker because she has oversized thumbs. Grossly oversized. They’re like German sausages, so whenever she sticks one out, she immediately gets a ride. Anywhere. Around the world. Up and down the US. She even taught Jack Kerouac a thing or two.
Now isn’t that ironically funny and absurd and amusing and ha ha hee hee and ho ho we’re really sticking it to the man with this absurd big thumbed babe hitchhiking all over the world by the power of her mutant thumbs and getting molested at 12 years old when she hitchhiked around Richmond her hometown but ha ha hee hee and ho ho that’s just one of those funny little absurdities when kids with big thumbs do all that anti-establishment hitchhiking, doncha know. And there’s naked cowgirls rioting on a dude/dudette ranch which they commandeer from the trans owner of a cosmetic company who has hired Sissy as a model because, despite the monster thumbs, she’s beautiful and somehow ends up on the ranch during the naked cowgirl riot. What’s the riot about?
Whooping cranes. And vaginas.
Tom Robbins seems a bit obsessed with vaginas. Not that I blame him, but I suspicion that a lot of what drives the postmodern anti-authoritarian anti-establishment gonzo journalistic absurd picaresque self-regarding dadaist crowd is a fascination with sex. Of any kind. With anything. What’s that old saw? Six to sixty, blind crippled crazy…it’s Harvey Weinstein and Michael Epstein wrapped up in a good natured worldwide shtupp and anyone who objects to being so shtupped is simply not cool and simply doesn’t get it because that’s how we stick it to the man, man! By sticking it in you!
Which is fine. Whatever floats your boat. And if that is your position, so to speak, and your theme and motivation for writing, well and good. But how ‘bout doing so in a coherent story that presents your points and concepts in an amusing and absurd manner exposing the foibles of society, a la Slaughterhouse-Five or One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, not this mess. And it is a mess. A self-regarding overwrought and overwritten stream-of-conscious mess that I basically forced myself to finish.
And somebody actually made a movie out of it.
Oh good Lord.