Still Life With Woodpecker by Tom Robbins, 1980
Published by No Exit Press
First line: “If this typewriter can’t do it, then fcuk it, it can’t be done.”
Book Rx: When you’re in the mood for a love story easy breezy like an ’80s love song.
I bookmarked this book in my head while watching ’50 First Dates.’ (For the record, one of my favorite rom-coms. Light, somewhat crude, but sweet… like WTI oil! *ba-dum-tss*)
Corny joke aside, I realize this is probably because Still Life With Woodpecker is set in Hawaii. Drew Barrymore is reading it in the Hukilau Café when Adam Sandler first sees her.
The book features a colorful cast of characters:
– Princess Leigh-Cheri Furstenberg-Barcalona, redhead princess in exile who goes to Maui to attend the Geo-Therapy Care Fest, wannabe environmentalist, ex-cheerleader, and owner of Prince Charming the frog;
– King Max and Queen Tilli of the Furstenberg-Barcalonas: one with an artificial heart valve that makes a metallic noise which, when excited, makes him “sound like a Tupperware party,” and the other an overweight queen who prays for “the deliverance of the crown [and] the health of her Chihuahua” every night;
– their old servant Gulietta, “octogenarian mermaid” and the Princess’ bedtime storyteller despite speaking no English (and the Leigh-Cheri speaking nothing else);
– Bernard Mickey Wrangle a.k.a. the Woodpecker, redhead bomber and “master of blast;”
– A’ben Fizel, playboy billionaire Arab sportsman, (in a minor supporting role); and
– with occasional appearances from the narrator (Robbins himself?), owner of a Remington SL3 typewriter that may or may not do the job; aaand
– a pack of Camel cigarettes, “vessel of symbolic truth” and mysterious player in things to come.
The story is simple enough: it’s about the two redheads, who meet and fall in love, and have things happen to them. I like that the book doesn’t take itself too seriously. It moves at its own pace with a rhythm and a beat:
– Sandwiches were invented by the Earl of Sandwich, popcorn was invented by the Earl of Popcorn, and salad dressing by the Oil of Vinegar. The moon invented natural rhythm. Civilization uninvented it. Princess Leigh-Cheri would have liked to reinvent it, but at that point she hadn’t a clue.
– They kissed. And giggled like cartoon mice.
– “How about dinner after your interview? There’s a delicious fish called mahi mahi. The fish so nice they named it twice.”
– “That’s all love ever is. Love is not a harpsichord concert in a genteel drawing room. And it sure as hell isn’t Social Security, Laetrile, the Irish Sweepstakes, or roller disco. Love is private and primitive and a bit on the funky and frightening side. I think of the Luna card in the Tarot deck: some strange, huge crustacean, its armor glistening and its pinchers wiggling, clatters out of a pool while wild dogs howl at a bulging moon. Underneath the hearts and flowers, love is loony like that.”
There are plenty of cool lines in the book dropped at the speed of finger snaps. There are slow, smooth stanzas too:
But having acquired a taste for solitude, each of them spent days separate and alone, Leigh-Cheri in the attic, Bernard in the pantry. Funny how we think of romance as always involving two, when the romance of solitude can be ever so much more delicious and intense. Alone, the world offers itself freely to us. To be unmasked, it has no choice.
I also like that it’s told in phases of the moon.