TOM ROBBINS FEATURE
American author TOM ROBBINS takes Ann Donald to a higher plane of consciousness with his latest karma-ridden novel.
om Robbins wants to be reincarnated as a vinegar eel. ‘A vinegar eel.’ the 58-year-old novelist informs me, ‘is a parasite found in Bavaria that burrows into the cracks in beer steins and feeds on the beer that slops over the side.’
Earth to Tom. Earth to Tom. Come in Tom. Welcome to the transcendental and permanently off-kilter universe of Seattle’s finest. For a guy who professes that the jet lag-fuelled daze of interviews to promote his latest zippy novel Half Asleep In Frog Pajamas has tipped him into ‘functioning below the summit of my potential’. he’s doing a damn fine job in fulfilling that literary cosmonaut role he’s been saddled with since blessing a bean can with the power of speech in Skinny Legs and All and. equipping Sissy. heroine of Even Cowgirls Get The Blues with a gargantuan thumb.
With Frog Pajamas he’s gone for the hat-trick with a dazzling storyline that links the American stock market crash with alien amphibians. uncovers the cosmic coincidences between a 3001b psychic and a born-again monkey and lavishes the reader with an illuminating treatise on enemas via a tattooed man from Timbuktu.
So how did a nice Southern baptist boy from ' Richmond. Virginia get mixed up in such a
bizarre war of words to the extent that he’s been hailed as The High Priest of Metaphors and Similes'? ‘Well. I taught myselro read at the age of live.’ he says. those Southern vowels still dancing to attendance. ‘I fell in love with language at a very young age and it’s a passion that’s never dampened. Even now the best part of writing is creating a space in which language can occur.’
As a writer. Robbins keenly asserts that each of his Technicolor novels has as its fundamental aims ‘liberation, transformation and celebration’. The power of transformation. he explains. hit him like a bombshell when at the tender age of twelve he observed the magical metamorphosis of his bleak. rural town with the arrival of Virginia’s equivalent to Mr Copperfield’s circus. ‘Suddenly this boring and dusty field would be transformed into a field pulsating with bright lights and music.’ he remembers ‘and that very act of transformation has been influential upon me in recognising that I could transform words. or one’s own mundane boring existence into something that shines a bit brighter.’
Two more earthquiveringly formative experiences in the life of the ﬂedgling author were his discoveries of women and spirituality.
both of which conveniently revealed themselves to him on the same night — ‘in the back of my dad’s pick-up truck on the way home from 21 Natalie Wood movie’. Though Robbins remains elusive about this particular experience. he does comment that women constitute one of his main passions. On his second marriage. this time to a psychic — ‘She is not 300lb. nor is she as ﬂaky as the book’s character‘ — Robbins is notable for the fact that each of the main protagonists in all six of his novels are women. ‘lt’s not a sexual obsession.’ he insists. ‘The female characters are stand—ins for me in a sense. When I take on the persona of a womaaan’ — there goes that Southern draw] again — ‘it allows me to step outside myself and gives me a lot more freedom than if I were navigating the literary waters of a man.‘
A brave soul who has never blanched from bandying around such joss-stick-tainted words as ‘karma’ and ‘cosmic’ and takes devilish pleasure in sporting a Born Again Pagan T-shirt. Robbins positively revels in the hippy dippy pop culture bin of psychedelia and Oriental philosophies. ‘I think it’s terrible to identify these philosophies exclusively with the 605.’ he says. sounding a tad annoyed. ‘These systems of liberation have been around for 4000 years. It’s only their trappings that became popular during that period.’
According to Robbins. he is plugging an ozone-sized hole in the spiritual roof of contemporary society. ‘There’s an enormous longing for ceremony and ritual and for some kind of experience that will propel us beyond our own egos.’ he says. warming to the subject. ‘There’s a need to establish a connection with the mystery of being. And part of my aim as a writer has been to fill the literary void that persists because our most talented writers are neglecting it.’
When not engaged in this spiritual superman mission the Seattle author aspires to be a fictional character called Zorba the Buddha. ‘He‘s definitely a hero.’ enthuses Robbins. ‘He’s someone who has an intense spiritual life yet knows exactly how much to tip in Parisian restaurants.’
An aptly bizarre and skewed aspiration for a man who shelters the dream of being reincarnated as a vinegar eel. L]
Half Asleep In Frag Pajamas is published by Bantam a! £6. 99.
_ IA" ' I: 8/1/15? ‘94; .'
The List 16 December 1994—12 January I995 9