Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Your Next Assignment

Write 415 pages about a former CIA agent, wheelchair bound, putting in on the coast of Turkey to deliver 2000 contraband gas masks to civilians. No? Too weird? Not for Tom Robbins, but then I can scarcely think of a plot twist that would be too weird for him. So, you're off the hook. In fact, you cannot use this scene because he already did in Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates. This is not a new book, came out in 2000, but I read as books fall into my hands, and this one fell, really, into my hands when I recently moved my books into a new bookcase. "Hah, didn't know I owned this one."

One of the several things I admire about Robbins is his devotion to his own concept of the novel. We have landfills full of books about spies who lie, steal, torture, and get killed. The pace is fast and the depth--well, you don't need boots to get from here to there in many of them. Robbins, though, goes deep. He not only makes room for big ideas, but embraces them, expands them, sets them free. All the thoughty stuff slows the pace, yes, but the language does a fandango and the thinking stretches the mind. He constructs a novel out of big blocks of idealism. Like Carl Hiaasen, Robbins preaches by example about the rot in our society--ecological, political, moral, and financial. He does it in this novel by having his wacko ex-spy, Switters, live these perils, dive into them, resist them, all the while displaying, no, flaunting, his own weaknesses--sex, drugs, and Broadway show tunes.

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