Apr 26, 2008

Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates

I finished reading Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates tonight. Published in 2000, This is the latest of the Tom Robbins books I have read (after Still Life with Woodpecker and Villa Incognito). Tom Robbins has become one of my favorite authors, because of his unconventional, and sometimes silly style of writing. He is playful with is words and his plot lines. I also enjoy the fact that his odd characters are vividly drawn and unconventional.

Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates follows a CIA operative (Switters), and the women in his life, including: his grandmother (Maestra), his step-sister (Suzy), and a nun (Domino Thiry). Switters is obsessed with innocence, hence the story begins with his sexual fixation on his 16 year old step-sister, who is one in a long line of underage girls that he finds himself drawn to. Of course this is a very uncomfortable place to go for most people (me included), but the book is worth reading, in spite of his pondering of the dirty old man syndrome. Later in the book, he develops feelings for the nun, Domino, who at 46 years old is 11 years his senior, but still has an innocence about her that he finds compelling. I like the way he describes her as a middle aged palm, having the strength to bear up under the pressure of a gale, without being so old and brittle she breaks or being so pliable as to provide no support.
Domino might not be the human equivalent of the middle aged palm, the
personified tree to which the tempest-tossed might emotionally attach
themselves without fear of being undone by say, naive Suzylike
whimsicality or crotchety Maestralike recalcitrance.

The story also involves Switters on assignment in the jungles of South America with a side project requested by his grandmother, Maestra. The errand Maestra sends him on results in his need for a wheelchair and his inability to place his feet on the ground without fear of death. While in the jungle he meets a tribal leader, "Today is Tomorrow" (the translation of his tribal name), who believes that the power of the white man comes from his ability to laugh. Laughter is not something that Today is Tomorrow's tribe seems capable of doing. Through Switters, Robbins takes jabs at organized religion, sexual convention, government and the secret organizations they run. Switters is a Buddhist and a pacifist, but he also carries a gun and is not afraid to use it. In this book, Robbins explores the dichotomy of good and evil and challenges the view that they are mutually exclusive attributes in people and in life.

I enjoyed this book as much (or maybe more) than his other books. Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates is Robbins longest book, at 413 pages. I found myself reading it more slowly than I have his other books, and in particular, dragging the last thirty pages out over a week, just to not have the book end.

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