Saturday, July 21, 2007


This disturbing head-twirler of a book was written by some guy named Tom Robbins and published by Bantam Books, copyrighted 1994. I read it a few years ago and always planned to review it for you here, but I knew I would have to re-read it and couldn’t bring myself to do that. Bleagh; this is just the kind of book that makes me feel queasy, but it won’t affect all of you that way, and it is an important read. I recommend you GO AHEAD.

The story opens on the day of a major stock-market crash, and attractive-but-incompetent stockbroker Gwen Mati has (page 3 – for some reason this book starts on page 3) has left her clients “so far underwater they’re going to need gills to breathe.” RIGHT AWAY we see where this story is headed. But the way Robbins gets you there is really, really disturbing. As in, REALLY disturbing. This first scene takes place in a tavern called the Bear & Bull where the traders graze and sometimes, as they do today, drown their sorrows. In this unlikeliest of places, she meets some kind of strange dang operative I never heard of, a creepy guy named Larry Diamond who, LIKE EVERY SHAVED MONKEY EVERYWHERE, is TOTALLY UNABLE to keep his mind above his belt and LIKE MANY OTHERS treats Gwen (at first) as a dispensible sex object. He never does jettison the sex angle but he does ultimately come around to treating her as someone he wants to rescue from petty monkey concerns and sweep away to a better place. But in this case, he’s planning on sweeping her away to the Sahara Desert, specifically Timbuktu. NOT EXACTLY PARADISE FOR A FISH, DUDE.

OK, as the title of this book makes clear immediately, the story leans on the Frog angle, not the Fish. But check out this passage on page 135:

“’Fish,’ you say aloud, with a squeaky and altogether mirthless chuckle. You could be thinking that it is quite amazing how much we human beings – evolved, civilized, sophisticated, created in God’s own image – depend on those cold-blooded, elongated, squamous vertebrates (slippery, pop-eyed, and pornographically scented) that hide from us in unknown numbers beneath the waters, deep or shallow, broad or narrow, fresh or briny, rough or placid, of the world.”


The next sentence in the story refers to “the Nommo card,” a Tarot card Gwen drew from a face-down deck a little earlier. Never heard of the Nommo? This came straight from Robbins, but WHAT AN IDEA: Larry Diamond has modified the Star card (“bright prospects, hope, the promise of the future”) to be entirely piscatorial in nature – the woman in the card has been fitted out with scales and webbed hands. If I had thought of this myself, I would have already added it to the Fishface Tarot Deck, but oh well. This does indeed turn out to be the nature of Gwen’s bright prospects as she circle closer and closer to accepting her destiny as a Frog Woman. Robbins, through Larry Diamond, throws in all kinds of references from the Bible and stuff. They act as lures that Gwen can relate to, sort of, to draw her into the mystic frog pond at the exclusive University of Timbukutu, or wherever it is that Larry plans to go to get well – he is a sick man looking for a cure, and once he’s in love with Gwen he wants to bring her along too. That MAY be a metaphor for the process of transforming the landscum back into sea creatures, but personally I FIND IT A BIT CREEPY. True to the generally perineal tone of this book, Larry’s problem is rectal cancer, and at one point Gwen walks in to find him stuffing medicinal leaves up his poop chute. He proceeds to get her down there with him on the bathroom floor so they can have sex, whereupon his roommate walks in and they have a chat about an important show coming on the TV. This is a major factor about this book that churns my guts : Robbins is one of those writers, like John Updike, who seems determined to gross you out by filling your head with the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of NOISOME BODILY FLUIDS. He is quite aware of this tendency: he has poor Gwen blushing red as a fire hydrant almost any time anyone speaks to her, or when she thinks, or when she comes to at one point in a dark alley with her pants around her ankles. I mean, on one level, this is a valuable process for Gwen because it tends to shatter the lens she looks through, always, as if under a curse: the primate hang-up on social status and dignity. Being rather beyond this point myself, I can still remember the pain of monkey humiliation. There is a TON of it in this book. Larry is rightly portrayed a an enlightened guy because he doesn’t worry about that stuff any more. But I’m not sure humiliating Gwen in eighteen different ways in a single weekend is the best way to break her out of her fear of humiliation. Jesus, JUST TURN HER INTO A FROG ALREADY.

Another thing that makes this book hard on the GI tract is the willy-nilly pace of the story, written entirely in the second person, giving the reader no opportunity to detach from the action. And because we’re in Gwen’s head as she is yanked, all unwilling, into a damper life, we cannot get away from the purple prose that sloshes constantly in her brain. Maybe all Robbins’s books are like this, but in this one, it’s Gwen who thinks in these nested metaphors. Gwen’s disconcerting habit of meditating on George Washington’s false teeth to clear her mind of sexual thoughts, in itself, is enough to kill a person’s appetite.

Anyway, GWEN NEVER QUITE GETS THE IDEA, and I think this is because all the slings and arrows on this zany weekend are distracting her from the real goal. You could use this book as a guide on HOW TO COMPLICATE THE RECRUITING PROCESS.

I think part of the problem is that Robbins (I checked) is quite human and writing a novel about financial insecurity and status consciousness, not PISCATORIAL LOVE. Hey, with all this chatter about the ancient Egyptian knowledge of Amphibian consciousness that survives to this day by the reedy watersides of Africa, he never makes the elementary connection between the piscatorially-enlightened tribe Dogon and our Great God, DAGON. Doofus.

He does give the reader one incredibly bracing, even heartwarming thought, on page 210:
”The Father’s a frog, the Son’s a tadpole, the Holy Ghost is swamp gas.”

Labels: , ,


Anonymous Anonymous said...

you're a great writer, too. i just finished this book (stayed up too late last night to complete it) and had found your review while googling "nommo tarot card" but was unable to read the review until i finished the book (i'm scared of spoilers).
i was not, in the least, disturbed by this book as you were. i LOVE this book, and all things Tom Robbins.
you want to get freaked out? read "villa incognito" or even "Fierce invalids home from hot climates," both by Tom Robbins. villa incognito will send shock waves through your skull.

7:04 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home