book review: still life with woodpecker

I like Tom Robbins’ books, but it’s one of these weird blind spots in my memory that I can never connect the titles with the stories so I’m never sure which ones I’ve read. I was halfway through Still Life With Woodpecker before recognizing a scene from the last time I’d read it. It was a line about a finger in an asshole being in Outlaw Territory that made me remember a specific seat I slouched in in one of the reading rooms in one of the Arts buildings at the University of Manitoba back in my undergrad days when I would devour novels instead of worrying too much about my classes. Good times. It’s funny how that one bit is all that sticks in my head. I mean, I’d remembered the themes and stuff, but nothing specific.

And the themes to this one are Choice and individualist romanticism and the only serious question anyone should ever ask: “How do you make love stay?” The story is about an exiled princess who falls in love with an outlaw bomber and they try to answer that question with explosions and pyramids and causes. It feels a bit like a 70s book (which it is), but not so much that you can’t squint and ignore it if the time period is not to your liking. You do need to know who Ralph Nader is though. And be familiar with the kind of people who join causes. Not too tough even today.

But the big thing it does is glorify the individual who makes choices. Which is not too bad a thing to focus on. There’s a running fixation on the moon and, one of the bits I quite liked was this:

Poetry, the best of it, is lunar and is concerned with the essential insanities. Journalism is solar (there are numerous newspapers called The Sun, none called The Moon) and is devoted to the inessential.

Essential insanities do seem important in this world.

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