Saturday, 9 February 2013

Book Feature: Two Weeks With Tom Robbins



From the start of his career right up until now, Tom Robbins has polarised opinion. The main consensus is that you either love him or hate him. After indulging in his works for the first time I’d have to say that I sit somewhere in between.

Two of his more notable works, Still Life With Woodpecker and Jitterbug Perfume, have both occupied space on my ‘to read’ shelf for the last 12 months. When I read an author for the first time I like to read two or three of his/her books straight up; the reasoning behind this is to get a feel for the style, basically.

Robbins’ style is basically defined by the fact that he doesn’t really have one. You know, "the rules are that there are no rules" mantra? That's Tom Robbins, folks. I guess you could see it too ways. 1) He’s a genius; or 2) His almost too smart for his own good. To me art shouldn't be about boundaries. It's seamless. Tom Robbins is not only an artist, but a damn god one at that. Love him or hate him, you can't deny the fact.

Reading various interviews with the elusive man and it's prevalent that contradiction is the focal point of his themes. After reading the two above titles it’s hard to argue the case. Simply put, SLWW was a piece I enjoyed immensely. Really enjoyed. The plot he cobbles together is something quite astonishing. Bomb makers, pyramids, social class distinction. How he comes to draw from such a wide array of things and executes it the way he does is almost a triumph in itself. The writing is brilliant, too. Proper prose.

Jitterbug Perfume draws on similar themes but, in my opinion, the execution doesn't quite reach the heights of its predecessor. I personally think there are a lot of unnecessary moments throughout Jitterbug. In saying that, though, during some of these moments, there are passages where you could almost feel words dripping off the pages. The man can write and indeed, write like no other. It's almost as if he's toying with his readers. It's almost as if Robbins thinks it's too easy to write something more 'user-friendly' in the vein of a Murakami or De Lillo. In context, it's kind of like Mike Patton doing Mr. Bungle instead of Faith No More.

Drawing on various social demographics, Tom Robbins adopts and intertwines fantasy, sexuality, spirituality and mashes it up with a splash of a humour on top. SLWW is certainly a benefactor of this chaotic jumble. Jitterbug, probably not so much, but still, some class it as his finest work. Out of any fiction writer I've read thus far, Robbins presents a spiritual tone like no other.

So I’m two down. You could say it's one-a-piece. If I was to describe Tom Robbins as anything I’d say he’s probably literature’s answer to Lester Bangs. It could be far worse, right?

By Simon K.