Still Life With Woodpecker by Tom Robbins – Book Review

Still Life With Woodpecker
If you were a former princess and a member of a deposed European royalty who lived in the suburbs of Seattle, how easily could you fall in love with a crook-toothed outlaw whose mantra is “Yum”? And, if you were an outlaw that hates to be called a “criminal” (because there is a big difference between an outlaw and a criminal), loves to drink tequila and blows up buildings, would you expect to meet the love of your life on your way to a Care Fest that you are planning to bomb? Welcome to the magic land of Tom Robbins novels!“Still Life With Woodpecker” is the third novel by Tom Robbins who is, in my opinion, one of the best authors of the last 30 years. The book is about a love affair between Bernard, an anarchist outlaw, and a former environmentalist princess-cheerleader, Leigh-Cheri, expelled from royalty after her second miscarriage. It has been called a post modern fairy tale, but for me, it’s just an amazing love story. I wouldn’t like to compare “Still Life” with Robbins’ other writings, and trying to find if there are flaws within this novel is not in my intentions; however, I’d like to discuss the questions this book brings up.

Are there two sides to every question?

The books talks about life and death; it describes how much the West differs from East and justifies why the moon is the sun’s opposite. But, does every question have two kinds of answers? As the author says: “There are two kinds of people in this world: those who believe there are two kinds of people in this world and those who are smart enough to know better.”

Why do we fall in love?

There is no why. What I like most about love is that it comes when it’s least expected. You never know which one of the frogs you are kissing will turn into a prince. Bernard and Leigh-Cheri met at the Care Fest that was taking place in Hawaii and fell in love at first sight. Two people with opposite life philosophies and yet, they had something in common. They were both redheads. Weird? I wouldn’t think so. Their red hair made them feel different and unique. Don’t we fall in love with people that have something we consider special in common?

How close can we feel to an object?

Would you ever talk to a spoon? Would you ever imagine that the only thing that makes you feel closer to your perfect half is a pack of Camel Lights, even if neither of you smoke? Would you ever think that the same pack of Camels could save your life?

It’s funny how close we can get to objects. And if you think that this has never happened to you, think again. Haven’t you ever cried during a move because you were going to miss your previous home? Was it ever difficult for you to get rid of an old shirt? Haven’t you ever washed your car because you like for it to look good? How about money? How many people worship all this?


Will some mysteries remain unsolved forever?

The heroes of this novel try to answer some of our most common questions, considered to be unsolved mysteries. Nobody knows the answer, but each of us tries to give an explanation. Some of them are: Are there global conspiracies? How were the Pyramids built? Do aliens really exist? Does the moon have a special “meaning”? And the greatest mystery of all: how can we make love last?

Tom Robbins, with his extraordinary style, using lively and amusing metaphors (as expected) answers all these questions in his book. Maybe his explanations are a bit different than mine. This is the way I understood some of his writings. But you have to read it before you jump to conclusions. You won’t be disappointed, and in any case you won’t get bored. He has a unique way to make fun of our society and the foolishness of people. Someone said that we have to take Tom Robbins seriously and someone else wrote that he is mad. The only “mad” thing I can see about him is that he talks to his Remington SL3 typewriter that “speaks electric Shakespeare at the slightest provocation and will rap out a page and a half if you just look at it hard” in between the chapters. But, on the other hand, this is not madness; it’s freedom of speech. Even if it’s speaking to your typewriter.


Anyway, I’ve selected some of my favorite quotes from the book, just to give you a little taste of his writings:

“A better world has gotta start somewhere. Why not with you and me?”

“If you’re honest, you sooner or later have to confront your values. Then you’re forced to separate what is right from what is merely legal. This puts you metaphysically on the run. America is full of metaphysical outlaws.”

“I’ll follow him to the ends of the earth,” she sobbed. “Yes, darling. But the earth doesn’t have any ends. Columbus fixed that.”

“The first time that she spread her legs for him it had been like opening her jaws for the dentist.”

“Something has got to hold it together. I’m saying my prayers to Elmer, the Greek god of glue.”

“Any half-awake materialist well knows – that which you hold holds you.”

“Funny how we think of romance as always involving two, when the romance of solitude can be ever so much more delicious and intense.”

So, if you haven’t read it yet, do it! I recommend it to you.
And if you have already read it, please let me know your opinion about it :)

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Comments (74)

  1. ae Tuesday - 05 / 02 / 2008 Reply
    Now Tequila has probably betrayed more outlaws than the central nervous system and disgruntled wives. Oh, Tequila, harsh dew of the doglands, essence of Azteca, crema de cacti, Tequila, oily and thermal like the sun in solution, Tequila, liquid geometry of passion, Tequila, firebug in the house of good taste, Tequila, the buzzard king who fornicates with the ascending souls of dying virgens, oh tequila what mischief (and something) your sly rebellious drops make. Love the quotes you included--love the one about oily and thermal, like the sun in solution. Man flat writes out nicest nasties. Starts with the whole universe and brings it down to just us....gotta love that.
  2. Cheerleader Saturday - 22 / 03 / 2008 Reply
    Tequila.....oh oh.... I remember back when. I dont dring that anymore. Laffe
  3. ae Monday - 09 / 06 / 2008 Reply
    There was also the quote about him getting hair coloring on his shoes...after that "he dyed with his boots on". There are just some things in this world that deserve quoting and being memorized and I keep trying for Casey at Bat the whole poem, what I end up with is bits and pieces from Still Life. Besides it blows your friends' minds when you can say "oily and thermal like the sun in solution", leastways the ones you love for their minds.
  4. Vicevoices Saturday - 18 / 10 / 2008 Reply
    There is a quote I'm looking for, I can't remember which book, though. To paraphrase: "Hawaii had a rat problem, they brought in snakes to eat the rats. The snakes ate the rats, but then Hawaii had a snake problem. They brought in mongooses to rid them of the snakes. Then they had a mongoose problem. LA had a crime problem, they brought in cops." If anyone can find the exact passage, and post it here, though I'll probably have long forgotten I'd ever been here, I will appreciate it none the less. In fact, I already do.
  5. k z Friday - 31 / 10 / 2008 Reply
    this is for Vicevoices: "Hawaii once had a rat problem. Then, somebody hit upon a brilliant solution. Import mongooses from India. Mongooses would kill the rats. It worked. Mongooses did kill the rats. Mongooses also killed chickens, young pigs, birds, cats, dogs, and small children. There have been reports of mongooses attacking motorbikes, power lawn mowers, golf carts, and James Michener. In Hawaii now, there are as many mongooses as there once were rats. Hawaii has traded its rat problem for a mongoose problem. Hawaii was determined nothing like that would ever happen again. How could Leigh-Cheri draw for Gulietta the appropriate analogy between Hawaii's rodents and society at large? Society had a crime problem. It hired cops to attack crime. Now society has a cop problem."
  6. Bbon Tuesday - 23 / 12 / 2008 Reply
    i just downloaded an e-book version of the book (.txt) Unfortunately, we all know that the best part is when tom writes at the end in longhand. arrgh! and it's missing from the e-book. any one know where to find this text? "Ha! what's the matter Rem? got a speech impediment?..." this is the cherry on top of the icing, the 'h' at the end of an 'aah'. without it, it's just a hole in the middle of a donut.
  7. Dylan Thursday - 16 / 04 / 2009 Reply
    Great review. This is my favorite book, and I am reading it yet again! (I pretty much read it every year...) Something that I think is a key theme that you over looked is choice. It's the word on the pack of camels.... That really left a lasting impression on me the first time I read it. So what is "CHOICE" representing in the book?
  8. Caitlon Saturday - 27 / 06 / 2009 Reply
    Wonderful review! This is one of the best books I have read in a while, and my favorite work from Robbins. My favorite quote from the book was, “If you’re honest, you sooner or later have to confront your values. Then you’re forced to separate what is right from what is merely legal. This puts you metaphysically on the run. America is full of metaphysical outlaws.” There are many others i enjoyed though, and I highly recommend to everyone if they are looking for a great story.
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