Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas

    Tom Robbins always has the dopest titles. Every good title needs a good bookmark to complement it, so I paired Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas with this little number:

A staple of every young woman’s repertoire: a penis that holds your place in a book. Shout out to Ashley McHugh for the stellar gift.

     Speaking of penises…Tom Robbins loves to talk about them. This 1994 novel was reminiscent of the other two I’ve read (and reviewed: here and here), particularly in his inclusion of lurid sex scenes, which have me rocking the rosacea look on the subway. Other distinctive Robbins signs:
  •       Use of women as powerful protagonists. The main character here is Gwendolyn Mati. It seems that she is intended to be unlikeable and, sure enough, she is. She’s an uptight, judgmental stockbroker who is unwittingly swept into a swarm of scandals. In his other works, the fabulous female characters have driven the plot; I’m always curious as to what they’ll do next because I find them inherently interesting. In this case, since Gwendolyn fell flat, I was more prone to boredom.
  • Not-so-subtle social commentary. Robbins has fully embraced a hippie persona in real life…and it shows. I eat it up. He emphasizes how important it is to protect our environment and not treat the world in such an entitled way. He makes clever digs at the church as an institution and encourages us to think for ourselves rather than blindly embrace religious dogma.  He basically kills it on this front.
  • Exploration of the supernatural through symbolism. Still Life of Woodpecker centered on a pack of Camel cigarettes and the pyramids on the package. Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas has less to do with pajamas and more to do with frogs. Robbins toys with the idea that our ancient ancestors are actually an extraterrestrial race of amphibians, insinuating that we’ll return to that state of being in a future evolutionary step. I don’t think that Robbins actually believes this; the point is that he wants to gracefully efface our belief systems and question our conception of reality. Currently, we’re in our pajamas on the brink of snoozing through life, not fully attune to its intricacies. Or perhaps my impression is wrong, and Robbins actually means that we literally look like this creepy man: 

Unfortunately, the symbols in this book are excessively complicated and frankly unexciting. Gwendolyn is on a judicious path, but she’s concerned with the accumulation of wealth at the expense of actually living an abundant life. Robbins sticks an eccentric, sensual man named Larry Diamond in the middle of her path to help her realize her wrongs. Diamond attempts to demystify humanity’s amphibious roots but he does so unsuccessfully. The intricate connections Robbins tries to make remain muddied through the end of the book. Perhaps he stuck too many things in Gwendolyn’s path to help veer her towards a different course? The story involves more than just Larry Diamond; it includes a thieving monkey who escapes captivity (would have preferred a thieving puppy monkey baby), a 300-pound psychic who disappears (she should have read her tarot cards better), and mysterious crime on the streets. Robbins has never adhered to the axiom “less is more”; it’s worked for him in the past, but it fails him here. I didn’t find the action very suspenseful because there was simply too much going on. It was like a Law & Order episode with ten poorly related crimes.

Still, Robbins challenges me as a reader. Always—even when I’m not feeling the plot. He drops rando facts that are so obscure, you’re forced to look them up because you’re not sure and you’re curious. He applies multi-layered analogies that make me do a double take. He uses quirky language to convey ideas that we can all get behind, like when he says, “Satisfaction is nothing but a temporary anesthetizing of the numinous noogie of existence” (Robbins, 348). I will continue to respect Robbins as one of the greats, but I will not recommend this book, as I don’t think it’s representative of what he’s truly capable of. Compared to Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, this novel pales in comparison. Consequently, I give it 2 out of 5 camel humps.

*Robbins, Tim. Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas. New York: Bantam Dell, 1994. Print.

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