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Tillabooks: Will's Book Blog

Thursday, September 11, 2003

Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates by Tom Robbins. New York: Bantam, 2000. ISBN: 0-553-10775-5

If you’ve never read a Tom Robbins novel, you owe it to yourself to try one. But don’t start with this one. I recommend Jitterbug Perfume (a wonderfully convoluted and rewarding story), or perhaps Skinny Legs and All. Robbins is a bit of an acquired taste, and this book is too long and its basic premises and character aren’t quite captivating enough to justify the length. Tastes differ, but to my taste, this book just wasn’t good enough. I had to put it down several times, and read other things, eventually coming back, because I wanted to see how it would turn out, but it took a long time getting there and tried my patience in the process.

The primary character, our fierce invalid, sometimes home from hot climates, but often traversing those climates, from the South American Amazon jungle to the deserts of Syria, is a CIA agent, later ex-CIA agent improbably named Switters. According to his notions, there are CIA agents, and then there are CIA agents. One group are angels, the other group cowboys. Switters is an angel, mostly, to wit “The line between cowboy and angel could be no wider than an alfalfa sprout” and “Switters, himself, occasionally zigzagged that line.”

Themes or topics (some of these are too insignificant to really be classed as themes, I suppose) include Catholicism and defrocked nuns (one of whom turns out to have been the original model for Matisse’s Blue Nude), the Virgin of Fatima’s lost prophecy, shamanism, Seattle, parrots, prepubescent lust (or more properly, lust FOR), and that list just scratches the surface.

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