Sunday, May 31, 2009

Even Cowgirls Get the Blues

For someone who claims not to particularly love Tom Robbins, I've managed to read a few of his novels. Each time, I am attracted by the clever titles, the intelligent (and at times hilarious) rambling prose, the offbeat characters, and the general coolness attached to his name. And each time, I find myself a bit disappointed in the end. Even Cowgirls Get the Blues was no different - some memorable characters, some funny scenes, but not really enough plot to warrant 400 pages of novel.

The protagonist is Sissy Hankshaw, an otherwise perfect-looking tall blonde with enormous thumbs. Her love, and other people's disdain, for these outsized digits instilled in her an uber-talent for hitchhiking, and the accompanying wanderlust that has taken her across this fine country numerous times without the urge to settle down.

Sissy's primary source of income is modelling for a feminine hygene spray, the manufacturer of which is owned by The Countess, a flamboyant homosexual with castanets for teeth. The Countess also owns the Rubber Rose, the largest all-cowgirl ranch in the west. A lake near the Rubber Rose happens to be one of the primary stop-overs for the last remaining migrating flock of whooping cranes, and the Countess arranges for a Disney crew to film their mating dances, with Sissy to accompany them and report back on the ranch's goings-on.

Sissy stays for a while when she gets sucked in by the drama on the ranch, as well as by her feelings for Jelly, and for the pecker-waving, yam-loving, old Japanese dude named the Chink. The cowgirls embark on a mission of man-independence by the visions from the whip-yielding, peyote eating forwoman Delores Del Ruby. Tom Robbins himself makes an appearance as a mustachioed wine-hound shrink. And the ultimate showdown at the Rubber Rose Ranch does not yield happy endings for all.

Most people either love or hate this book, but I find myself more lukewarm on it. At his best, Robbins is funny and clever and creates characters that are quirky and unique, but the plot tying it all together is just too thin. Perhaps the novel isn't the right medium for Robbins at all, and he should just turn his talents to becoming the world's best Twitterer.

Up next: highly acclaimed graphic novel Watchmen, which I'm really looking forward to reading!


Joker said...

I think that perhaps the novella would be perfect for TR - longer than the short story so he can develop his characters, shorter than the novel and the weightier expectations of a full and potent plot. Robbins' best juice is in his characters and their situational comedy - my experience is that the framework of his novels does little to sustain you inbetween the sometimes wonderful comic conflagrations. Besides, the modern novella needs a Champion - who better than he?

Cisco said...

Go Watchmen!

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