Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Even Cowgirls Get The Blues - Tom Robbins

1976; 416 pages. Genre : Modern Lit. A Counter-Culture Classic. Overall Rating : B.
ECGTB is the story of one Sissy Hankshaw, who's the Tiger Woods of hitchhiking, thanks to two super-sized thumbs and a love for the open highway. In her travels, she crosses paths with the all-girl Rubber Rose Ranch, the last flock of migrating whooping cranes, the author posing as a psychiatrist, a lust-crazed Japanese guru that everyone thinks is Chinese, a full-blooded Mohawk whom she marries, a peyote queen, and a Countess who's a "he".
What's To Like...
When he's advancing the plot, Robbins has the rawness of Bukowski, the humor of Vonnegut, the word-weaving wit of Plath, and the simile and metaphor magic of Pratchett. Wow. In addition, he sprinkles in some interesting ancedotes (some maybe even factual) such as Robert Schumann doing finger-stretching exercises, and F. Scott Fitzgerald dying while eating a Butterfingers candy bar. He also occasionally engages in "verbing" (which I still think should be called 'verbalizing').
There is a lot of sex here, and all sorts of it - straight, gay, bi, group, and auto. The sex passages fit in well, but this is not a book for the kiddies. Robbins takes on religion and all sorts of hippie-days issues, such as "finding oneself". He doesn't have much use for us westerners getting into Eastern gurus, suggesting that we instead should reconnect with our pagan past.
Alas, after a stellar first third of the book, Robbins starts halting the storyline to go Dan-Brown preachy on us, often for 20 pages or so at a pop. Most notable and lengthy are the Sissy-and-the shrink and Sissy-and-the-Ch*nk diatribes. Hasn't he heard of "show, don't tell"? Some of his philosophical mush is probably good, but there are also things like "I believe in everything, nothing is sacred. I believe in nothing, everything is sacred." That reminds me of Inspector Clousseau's (Pink Panther) line : "I suspect everybody. I suspect nobody." Yeah, they both have equal merit as far as life-guiding advice goes.
In the evenings, light from an ever-increasing number of television sets inflicted a misleading frostiness on the air. It has been said that true albinos produce light of similar luminescence when they move their bowels.
Middays, the city felt like the inside of a napalmed watermelon. (pg. 42, describing South Richmond)
"You're either for us or a Guinness." (pg. 311)
New/Cool Words...
Atavistic (the reappearance of a characteristic in an organism after several generations of absence); Pellucid (crystalline, transmitting light); Limbic (of the interconnected brain structures involved with emotions, motivation, etc.); Impastoed (applied via thick layers of pigment to a canvas or other surface); Gloaming (twilight); Extirpate (to pull up by the roots). There was also "mambaskin" which means, straightforwardly enough, "the skin of a mamba". For some reason when I read it, I broke it down into "mam - baskin" and drew a total blank.
"Ha ha, ho ho, and hee hee"
This seems to be a love-it-or-hate-it book for most readers. I found it to be both. When he was moving the storyline forward, it was a great read. But the philosophical exegesis and the ending were both self-indulgent. I give it a "B"(or one giant Sissy Hankshaw 'thumbs up'), since the good parts are more prevalent than the bad parts.
Even Cowgirls Get The Blues broke new ground when it came out in 1976, especially regarding lesbian and bisexual relationships. But it's written by a heterosexual male, and I wonder whether today Robbins' views would seem dated to GLBT readers.


Amanda said...

I love it! You're your very own book blogger now! You rock! :D

terry said...

mostly it's just to chronicle the books i read.

i liked Amber's and Trixie's idea of posting their reviews on their personal blogs in addition to 5-Squared. but a blog dedicated solely to the reviews seems more functional.