Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates

Robbins, Tom

Published by Bantam, 2000
ISBN 10: 0553107755 / ISBN 13: 9780553107753
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Synopsis: "Tom Robbins has a grasp on things that dazzles the brain and he's also a world-class storyteller."
--Thomas Pynchon

In Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates, his seventh and biggest novel, the wise, witty, always gutsy Tom Robbins brings onstage the most complex and compelling character he has ever created.

Switters is a contradiction for all seasons: an anarchist who works for the government, a pacifist who carries a gun, a vegetarian who sops up ham gravy, a cyberwhiz who hates computers, a robust bon vivant who can be as squeamish as any fop, a man who, though obsessed with the preservation of innocence, is aching to deflower his high-school-age stepsister (only to become equally enamored of a nun ten years his senior).

Yet there is nothing remotely wishy-washy about Switters. He doesn't merely pack a pistol. He is a pistol.

And as we dog Switters's strangely elevated heels across four continents, in and out of love and danger, Robbins explores, challenges, mocks, and celebrates virtually every major aspect of our mercurial era.

As many readers well know, to describe a Tom Robbins plot does not begin to describe a Tom Robbins novel. Moreover, the internationally acclaimed, best-selling author, with his love of language, nuance, and surprise, is as opposed to story summations as J.D. Salinger. It is revealing, however, to learn what things Robbins lists as having influenced the writing of Fierce Invalids:

"This book was inspired by an entry from Bruce Chatwin's journal, by a CIA agent I met in Southeast Asia, by the mystery surrounding the lost prophecy of the Virgin of Fatima, by the increasing evidence that the interplay of opposites is the engine that runs the universe, and by embroidered memories of old Terry and the Pirates comic books."

Robbins also has said that throughout the writing of Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates he was guided by the advice of Julia Child: "Learn to handle hot things. Keep your knives sharp. Above all, have a good time."

Perhaps that is why he has managed to write a provocative, rascally novel that takes no prisoners--and yet is upbeat, romantic, meaningful, adventurous, edifying, and fun.

Review: The fierce invalid in Tom Robbins's seventh novel is a philosophical, hedonistic U.S. operative very loosely inspired by a friend of the author. "Sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll are enormously popular in the CIA," claims Switters. "Not with all the agents in the field, but with the good ones, the brightest and the best." Switters isn't really an invalid, but during his first mission (to set free his ornery grandma's parrot, Sailor, in the Amazon jungle), he gets zapped by a spell cast by a "misshapen shaman" of the Kandakandero tribe named End of Time. The shaman is reminiscent of Carlos Castaneda's giggly guru, but his head is pyramid-shaped. In return for a mind-bending trip into cosmic truth--"the Hallways of Always"--Switters must not let his foot touch the earth, or he'll die.

Not that a little death threat can slow him down. Switters simply hops into a wheelchair and rolls off to further footloose adventures, occasionally switching to stilts. For a Robbins hero, to be just a bit high, not earthbound, facilitates enlightenment. He bops from Peru to Seattle, where he's beguiled by the Art Girls of the Pike Place Market and his 16-year-old stepsister, and then off to Syria, where he falls in with a pack of renegade nuns bearing names like Mustang Sally and Domino Thirry. Will Switters see Domino tumble and solve the mystery of the Virgin Mary? Can the nuns convince the Pope to favor birth control--to "zonk the zygotic zillions and mitigate the multitudinous milt" and "wrest free from a woman's shoulders the boa of spermatozoa?" Can the author ever resist a shameless pun or a mutant metaphor?

The tangly plot is almost beside the point. Switters is a colorful undercover agent, and a Robbins novel is really a colorful undercover essay celebrating sex and innocence, drugs and a firm wariness of anything that tries to rewire the mind, and Broadway tunes, especially "Send in the Clowns." Some readers will be intensely offended by Switters's yen for youth and idiosyncratic views on vice. But fans will feel that extremism in the pursuit of serious fun is virtue incarnate. Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates is classic Tom Robbins: all smiles, similes, and subversion. --Tim Appelo

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Bibliographic Details

Title: Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates
Publisher: Bantam
Publication Date: 2000
Binding: Hardcover
Book Condition: Fair

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