It's been awhile since I read Tom Robbins. Because his, what I consider, quintessental, work was written in the 70s, "Even Cowgirls Get the Blues". And every time I picked up that book, my itchy feet got in the way, and before I could finish it, I was off on an adventure. Robbins knows how to speak to one's essence. And he doesn't seem to have forgotten how. I still don't know how that book turned out.
Robbins is a voice of our times. Not the only voice, but certainly an eloquent one, and well worth reading, if you weren't hoping for a rip-roaring, bodice ripping, shoot 'em up, and everything is pat kind of book. But, if you're willing to think, he still has a thing or two to say. When you read Robbins, you have to open your mind a bit, let his more than proficient, in fact, poetic, prose sink in and let your mind wander a bit beyond the envelope.
He starts with an ancient Eastern fable about the Tanuki, a badger-like creature with enormous testicles and an appetite for life. If you can hang through the sexual thoughts, you can read the book. It's a vetting process. Open your mind. He graduates into a modern day tale of three former MIAs of Vietnam who have set up a corporate gold mine in Laos, and a life there amidst the people, over a period of thirty years. Part of it is fantasy, philosophy and fable, and part of it is very real world. What happens when an MIA decides to stay missing? What happens to his former life, what happens in his future?
Robbins weaves a tale that is layer upon layer, all of it beautifully rendered. He weaves in fable, current events, social commentary, and pure poetry in his prose. And manages to bring it to a satisfactory ending.
If I have a criticism of this work, albeit scant, it's that Robbins has long been a member of the cogniscenti elite (my spellcheck doesn't event recognize that word). He was literati when I was in high school, and I doubt he ever had to flip burgers for a living. His criticism of the American lack of intelligence and sentiment regarding matters beyond our borders strikes me as smug.
While he was off, learning all about the far East, we were here raising families and paying bills. He tends to pass off our concerns as trifling, and makes light of the tremendous American effort that brought the soldiers in Viet Nam home. As if we wouldn't have been considerate of what they went through, ok, some of weren't. But, I would call this superficial. Hell, some of us died to bring them home. Tell that to the parents and families of Kent State. There are those of us who are now grandparents who still have feelings regarding the wrongness of the Vietnamese "conflict", who lost brothers, fathers, friends, to that not so noble endeavor, and somehow, he thinks we have forgotten. We have not forgotten. We are still here, and still remember.
What I come up with is that, he is out of touch with America as it stands. He hasn't had to endure a typical American life. He makes rather light of 9/11. I wonder if he was here for it, or knew what it really meant? I was sure that he was trying to make a greater statement regarding the global meaning of America's involvement and compliance with 9/11, but in that effort, I feel that he failed. I think he should have been here when it happened. And I rather suspect that he wasn't.
All those criticisms in place, it's a book well worth reading and this was a review worth writing. It will get you in touch with things you may not have thought about for awhile, and truths that you still remember, but may be on the back burner. He is still a thoughtful mind of our times, and he brings a global and historical perspective that we might not get by walking down Main Street. Put it on your reading list.
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