Friday, May 23, 2008

More about Frogs

Pressing on with Tom Robbins' novel Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas, I finally got it. My idea of a novel or story is usually character based, but HAFP is a novel of ideas based on class distinction and distain. Gwen, the protag, looks down her perfect little nose at everyone! She sneers and snarls, grasps and grabs, all in the name of Porsche, Amalfi, and Dow Jones. Larry Diamond (in the rough!) is the foil meant to lead her into a nirvana of sorts peopled by outsiders and amphibians. (I saw a bumper sticker recently, "Reptile Humane Society"--Diamond would approve.) Through him, Robbins pulls Gwen down from her lofty, solid-gold ambition, with the help of a market crash--Gwen is a broker--and flings her into a swampy, marginalized world of rectal cancer, bowling alley noise, and a rusty Vespa.

All the flash and filigree of her materialistic life is a sweet-and-sour coating on a sermon against materialism. Robbins even invokes the images of Gary Snyder, Diane di Prima, and Carlos Castenada! Fun stuff, and for a character-development junkie like me, a walk on the wet side. Robbins has his own gig here, playing an instrument bent skywards like the horn of Dizzie Gillespie, whom he also tucks into the narrative. He trumpets ideas in a new way. The book crawled out of the swamp in 1994, so I'm way late getting to it, but a few others out there may have missed it too. It's instructive and entertaining, the basic requirements of literature. Need to know about buying oil futures on the margin or ancient astronomy? The bowel regimen of an ancient Chinese empress? Call Robbins.

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