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RObbins revels in the bizarre in Skinny Legs and All


Written by Tom Robbins

Bantam Books

422 pages, $19.95


FROM THE FIRST CHAPTER of Tom Robbins newest novel, Skinny Legs and All, the reader enters that peculiar world that is common to all his novels. In one short chapter Robbins manages to delight and confound, impress and frustrate, using metaphors that no one on this earth could have thought of except Robbins. Just a sample gives an idea: "This is the room of the wolfmother wallpaper. The toadstool motel you once thought a mere folk tale, a corny, obsolete, rural invention. . . . This is the room where Jezebel frescoed her eyelids with history's tragic glitter, where Delilah practiced for her beautician's license, the room in which Salome dropped the seventh veil while dancing the dance of ultimate cognition, skinny legs and all."

Like his previous novels, plot matters little in this story. The important part of the book is its attitude, the attitude of take no prisoners, no-holds barred, full speed ahead use of the language to pontificate, cajole, wax lyrical, and just plain be humorous. For humor is here in abundance -- I found myself laughing out loud at almost every other page. Robbins creates unique situations and looks at ordinary situations in a slightly skewed manner that creates that kind of humor.

The politics are unabashedly liberal and green at a time when one is pass'e and the other the flavor of the month. The religious viewpoint is mainly New Age, although it could really be characterized as anti-religion. Surprisingly, with the fantastic nature of the story, a good deal of the outright philosophizing has much in the way of common sense.

Robbins uses magical realism, pure fantasy, romanticism, ancient mythology, current events, absurdity, and lots of steamy sex to tell this story. It starts with Ellen Cherry and Boomer, newlyweds who have married after Boomer drove from their hometown of Colonial Pines, VA, to Seattle to propose to Ellen Cherry and present to her a camper in the shape of a roast turkey. Ellen Cherry is an artist on her way to New York to start her career, with Boomer supporting her in his chosen career of welder.

Along the way, they inadvertently perform an ancient ritual in a cave (they make love while yelling certain words) and awaken two important icons from a religion that predates Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. These animate and sentient objects set off with certain other objects that the hastily departing couple have left behind to try to reach Jerusalem in time for the building of the promised Third Temple.

Meanwhile, Boomer and Ellen Cherry make it to New York where domestic bliss is short-lived when Boomer manages to sell his giant roast turkey as a work of art and Ellen Cherry must take a job as a waitress. The job is at Isaac and Ishmael's, a new restaurant across from the United Nations, opened by a Jew with a foot fetish and an Arab who believes in the zen of washing dishes. It is meant as a symbol of brotherhood, compromise, and peace. Within a week of its opening, the place is bombed and attacked by both sides of the Middle Eastern conflict.

During this fantastic story, we meet a whole slew of interesting and unusual characters, including a can of beans, a silver spoon, and a dirty sock (Robbins may be the only writer who can make you sympathize with a beat up can of beans). We also meet Ellen Cherry's uncle, the Reverend Buddy Winkler, a fundamentalist preacher who sees the fabled Third Temple as a means to an apocalyptic end. And it isn't giving away too much to say that the climax of the novel is the show-down between the Super Bowl and the Dance of the Seven Veils.

If all of this sounds quite bizarre, it is. Robbins revels in the bizarre and unusual. Inanimate objects not only come to life but serve as a sort of chorus. An extremist preacher and militant orthodox Jews plot against peace-minded politicians. Inarticulate welders become darlings of the New York art scene. This books observes and celebrates life with a finely honed, ironically humorous style.