I have recently been reading the works of Tom Robbins, a name I have known and ignored since my college days because I was a literary snob, absorbed in reading "the classics," and therefore shunned anything labelled a best seller.
I finally decided to read him because people on Authonomy told me I write like him. Hardly! I can riff off him, surely, but to come up with anything as clever and original on my own? I shudder at the thought of the attempt. And yet no one takes him seriously because he makes his readers laugh. Since when was giving the gift of laughter considered a mortal sin, or a disqualification from the literary dialogue? I went to google scholar, and found not one academic article on him, while the only "critical study" of him is from a series done on a bunch of best selling lightweights.
Here is a typical Robbins passage.
"How could anything as commonplace - and in their pink, fatty, babyish way, dumb - as human lips produce such a mysterious pleasure? Accompanied by tiny noises like carp feeding or rubber stretching or fallen kumquats returning to the branch? Fusing one pair of lips to another must be akin to attaching an ordinary prefix such as re or a or ex to an ordinary (and rather harsh verb) such as ward or rouse or cite. Looking at it from another angle, their kiss was like a paper airplane landing on the moon."
Granted, it doesn't make you go off and hang yourself in the attic or skydive without a parachute. But who could not read that and marvel at the man's genius? The richness of free association. The originality of the metaphors, and that impossible simile at the end that gives it such a beautifully sculpted shape. It is sheer joy.
There are countless more such wonders of Language in each book of his I read. When I think of the critical acclaim his contemporaries get for their dysfunctional family sagas, or derivative critiques of suburbia, academia, terroria, yada yada, that Robbins routinely writes rings around, it makes me wonder how we qualify people to make judgements about literature. Pynchon, DeLillo? Please, give me a barium enema.
The only writer I can think of who can match him is Nabokov.
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