Robbins, Tom. Jitterbug Perfume. New York: Bantam Books. 1984.
So this was my first introduction to a Tom Robbins novel, and I must say…WOW! My, oh my…that man can write! That man can write.
Admittedly, I spent the first 30 or so pages grappling with the idea of whether or not I would be able to get into this book. But once I caught the rhythm of the language, I set sail on a whimsical literary journey that only a brilliantly conceived work of the utmost creatively crafted fiction can inspire. Here’s a quick example:
The Middle Ages hangs over history’s belt like a beer belly. It is too late now for aerobic dancing or cottage cheese lunches to reduce the Middle Ages. History will have to wear size 48 shorts forever. In the pit of that vast stomach–sloshing with dark and vinegary juices, kindled by a thousand-year heartburn–major figures stimulated acute contractions, only to be eventually digested, adding to the bloat. Clovis, Charlemagne, Otto I, William the Conqueror, Rurik the Viking, Pope Leo, Thomas Aquinas, Johann Gutenberg, and a platter of other renowned generals, kings, philosophers, and popes fermented and dissolved in that mammoth maw. Our little couple, however, our Alobar and Kudra, remained intact and indigestible, like the hard octopus beaks that sicken the stomachs of whales, causing them to vomit the ambergris that bonds the bouquet in great perfumes. Like octopus beaks, our couple. Or maraschino cherries, (172).
This is one of those books that you don’t want to end, simply because it just so fun to read!
And smart, too. No, genius! Cleverly interweaving four sub-plots, the overarching theme amounts to timeless (literally, read the book and you’ll understand) love story with a general ethos of lightheartedness. Invoking profound ideas about the afterlife rooted in the world’s great spiritual traditions, allusions are made to Christianity (and the historical lineage of its pagan roots), Buddhism, Hinduism…as well as to the notion of truly experiencing the living, immediate present, which transcends all religious doctrine, anyway. The characters are very entertaining and well developed, too. I want them to be my friends, and we’ll get beers and talk for hours without realizing that the sun is about to come up. One of the protagonists, Dr. Wiggs Dannyboy, reflects an Irish adaptation of Timothy Leary, if that provides any clue as to how lively and amusing they can be!
Tom Robbins is a literary virtuoso, and this novel packs a dense artistic punch! By all means, I will read this one again, probably a few more times during life. It’s that good.