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Friday, May 12, 2006

Villa IncogNoNo

I just finished Tom Robbins's Villa Incognito. It pretty much sucked, as KB warned me it did. But I'm still disappointed, because it began with its usual Robbins-y goodness, then devolved into an exclusive focus on his worst excesses, which were even more excessive-y than usual.

First among these is a tendency to fantasize that all young, hot women have two drives in life: (1) To wind up in an affair, either through inertia, need, or a curiously detached "fuck everything" approach, with an ugly, aggressive, won't-take-no-for-an-answer lesbian; (2) that after her lesbian affair (or just in the nick of time if she has managed to avoid it), she cannot contain her desire to find the biggest, oldest, hairiest, most pontifactory man in the world and do nothing but fuck him in ever-creative ways until she is cast off for the next young, hot, lesbian-adjacent number.

Yeah, I knew the job was dangerous when I took it. The Stubblefield-Goldwire-Foley trifecta is not terribly different from either Wiggs Dannyboy (of Jitterbug Perfume fame) or the Spike Cohen (the Jewish foot-fetishist from Skinny Legs and All), but both those had a lot more going for them than Villa Incognito, which reads like Robbins fanfic, starting with some promise, skipping the dizzying, brilliant mad, mad, mad mad world plot in the middle, and going directly to "And then they did Teh Sex." It literally feels that way, as well, given that this book is just over 200 pages (and that's quite padded with the lyrics to "Meet me In Cognito" [no, not the Judybats]). Jitterbug Perfume is 352, Skinny Legs and All a hefty 450.

Whereas Robbins was more than ready to write his comic masterpiece on Israel and Palestine in Skinny Legs and All, his take on Vietnam, the opium trade, and 9/11 were far from ready for prime time in Villa Incognito. Also, it's an ill wind that blew Villa Incognito off my "to be read" pile and into the bathtub immediately after I'd finished Ishiguro's When We Were Orphans. Oddly enough, I had been feeling quite disappointed with the Ishiguro as well (and still maintain it's not up to his usual standards), but at the very least, he deals with the Western role in the history of the opium trade in a raw and complex (if "B-plot") way. That's more than Robbins can be bothered with, even after he introduces the move from moving opium itself to processing heroin as a bone of contention among his characters.

There's nothing to cut one's teeth on in this. The attempts at racial politics are half-hearted afterthoughts and even the vehement frustration with 21st century America feels old and feeble. And, really, the whole thing is soured by a greasy, vaguely nauseating partriarchal misogyny. (Uh, yeah, I realize that I read with the two drives of Robbins's female characters, which might make it seem like I've been partaking of the opium myself for sounding surprised to find this, but really, his female characters are generally wonderful, despite the dirty old man stuff.)

The two daft sisters he introduces have precious little to do and there's no fondness and more than a little cruelty in how they are depicted. Our Thai prostitute is, natch, working her way through a literary correspondence course and wins the reward of being a wife and getting to study IN AMERICA. Black patent leather boots and and cheongsam dress provide the sum total of characterization for our "main" female character, who accepts with delighted gratitude the fact that one of her old, hairy lovers gives her as a gift to the other because she is "no ordinary woman."

Feh. I guess it irritated me more than I thought, given that I simply intended a "Well, that blew" kind of entry.

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