Coincidence certainly, but Tom Robbins and T.C. Boyle's most recent projects both deal with the abbreviated, the compact; in the case of the former, he fills 255 or so pages with essays, poems, odes, articles, tributes, and to be honest, a whole garbage can full of other literary detritus; in the case of the latter, Boyle's once literary lion-like status is reduced to alleycat scribble with his collection of short stories. Even the titles of both books share a commonality - the animal kingdom. Robbins and his ducks and Tom and his teeth and claws. Normally, the arrival of books by these overwhelmingly wonderful writers would send fans into word-wide frenzy. This time, it's simply a frenzy at finding out where in Seattle state Tom hangs out and hanging him from his typo-tragic thumbs.
His last novel, Villa Incognito, was pitiful, terrible, a book as useless as dykes in New Orleans. And now this, this travesty, this lie. The title implies that we're to be treated, at the very least, to short stories, but these are terrible little scraps of deep-thinking dreck that the author had been commissioned to write by various magazines and journals. The master of metaphor falls headfirst into the slung duck dung of heavyhanded, over-the-top, trying way to hard to impress witless wordplay.
(This my very own theory - I don't think Robbins wrote his last book. I believe he had some notes, found a ghost writer - even the dead could have done a better than job he dead - paid him/her $600 or $700 and took off on one of his worldly sojourns.)
He is not a poet. In his natural style, when the rhythm is right and he's found his grammar groove, that's when he turns into a poet non pareill. But when he consciously names a section "Stories, Poem, & Lyrics," shut the book immediately, pick up Even Cowgirls..., turn to any page and read it. It will reconfirm his place in the upper echelons of fictionland. Calling a chapter by this name is like saying to the reader, "I'm not sure what these are but this is what I'm hoping you think they are. Please allow me a lot of slack."
Oh, Tom, you're robbin' us. After so many years of so many wondrous novels, you've stolen our $25.00 (and pity the poor Canadian who is an even closer geographic neighbor to his homebase in Seattle and has to pony up $7.95 more for this pitiful excuse of cutting down a tree [my money is that some pissed of Canuck is going to cross over the border in a stealth-like night raid and steal back his hard-earned money]).
There is so much here to anger me that every time I open the book, I want to break its spine and rip out the pages like white blood cells. There is one - and I don't even know what you call it - single-paragraph writing called "How Would You Evaluate John Steinbeck?" As the greatest writer the world has ever known, the late, great Mr. S. has to be subjected to "Maybe what I admire most about John Steinbeck is that he never mortgaged his forty-acre heart for a suite in an ivory tower." What? Excuse me? The world knows John was a real man, a champ for the underdog, undercat, the under-represented. There are two more lines too embarassing to even repeat. And at the end of the piece it's credited to "Asked by the Center for Steinbeck Studies, San Jose State University, 2002." That means Tom wrote this nearly four years ago. He has been writing this crap for that long? His metaphors are like, metathrees or something.
I'm ashamed and embarrassed for Tom Robbins. And shouldn't the title be Wild Ducks Flying Backwards? No, my bad. Backward and backwards are interchangeable - one for Robbins. I'll tell you what is flying backward/s, however, at a very swift pace, and that's his reputation and dependability. Used to be, a Tom Robbins book was an adventure in adverbs, a swift romp through irregular verbs, and hanging you off the edge of precipitous and precious participles.
Does creativity really dry up virtually overnight? Impossible to think so. But read this, Villa Incognito, and Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates (where you could sense dementia setting in), and then read the heartbreakingly wondrous Half Asleep In Frog Pajamas. And you tell me - can creativity really dry up virtually overnight?