If you’ve ever wondered why I count Tom Robbins among my favorite authors of all time, I’m here to tell you.
Still Life With Woodpecker was my first brush with his writing style—the cartwheeling, firecrackered style that I immediately fell deeply in love with. It has two openers, technically, one a slightly meta prologue, one a chapter. Both are great. I’m quoting both.
Quoth the prologue:
“If this typewriter can’t do it, then fuck it, it can’t be done.
“This is the all-new Remington SL3, the machine that answers the question, ‘Which is harder, trying to read The Brothers Karamazov while listening to Stevie Wonder records or hunting for Easter eggs on a typewriter keyboard?’ This is the cherry on top of the cowgirl. The burger served by the genius waitress. The Empress card.
“I sense that the novel of my dreams is in the Remington SL3—although it writes much faster than I can spell. And no matter that my typing finger was pinched last week by a giant land crab. This baby speaks electric Shakespeare at the slightest provocation and will rap out a page and a half if you just look at it hard.”
Quoth the first chapter:
“In the last quarter of the twentieth century, at a time when Western civilization was declining too rapidly for comfort and yet too slowly to be very exciting, much of the world sat on the edge of an increasingly expensive theater seat, waiting—with various combinations of dread, hope, ennui—for something momentous to occur.”
I’ve been struck—literally struck, as if by a bat—by the desire to re-read some of my favorite novels. I want to re-read The Magicians trilogy by Lev Grossman again. I want to re-read the two available Kingkiller chronicles. Lolita has flitted through my thoughts more than once. I wouldn’t mind revisiting S.M. Stirling’s post-apocalyptic world in Dies the Fire. I could tackle the Raven Boys Cycle again any time. I have so many fucking reading goals to complete by the end of the year, and all I can think about is traveling back, visiting old friends, catching up and seeing if we still get along like we used to.
So I picked up a few favorites, leafed through them, read their openers. Still Life With Woodpecker struck me hard enough that I re-read it on the spot. Robbins does not disappoint. Not me, not ever. In spite of his weird obsession with hot young women having acrobatic sex with gross old men. Every sentence is a fucking party, and everybody is invited.
Still, this re-read brought a number of things to my attention that I hadn’t noticed previously. There’s mansplaining (here honey, Imma teach you about natural birth control cause you obviously know nothing about your own body, GROSS) and while it is packed in the premise of a man believing that men and women need to take equal responsibility for birth control and that a male birth control pill would be the best thing ever, it still smacks of eww. Also, given the recent bombings around the world, I wonder if a contemporary first-time reader would find the Woodpecker—who carries around dynamite and blows things up, though he aims to destroy property, never people—as charming as he is intended to be. As a book attempting to describe the last quarter of the 20th century it is a success, but as a book in the first quarter of the 21st, it might have lost some resonance.
Have you ever read Tom Robbins? Did you love it? Did you hate it? Do you often return to your favorite books for a good leaf or a re-read?