Thursday, March 31, 2011

I Want to Love America

This will be the last time – I promise – that I will quote from Tom Robbins’ book, Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates!
by Charlie Leck

I’ve read this novel by Tom Robbins twice in the last couple of months and I’m not going to read it again even though it’s tempting. I’m crazy about Robbins ability to create unique and interesting characters. In this book I found myself really hooked by the protagonist, Switters.

Robbins wouldn’t make good reading for a few of my readers. He’s really pretty profane and he’s tough on religious people and pounds pretty hard on the judgementalists among the religious. He’s also tough on politicians and phony patriots.

Nevertheless, I find myself laughing hysterically at this guy and he always seems to stir me up.

Here’s an extraordinary opening to one of the closing chapters in this novel, Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates:

“The May moon looked like a bottlecap. More specifically, entering its last phase, the moon looked like a bottlecap that a fidgety beer-drinker had squashed double between macho thumb and forefinger. The moon was making Switters thirsty, and he said as much to Touific, but the truck driver wasn’t listening.

“’I want to love America,’ Touific lamented, ‘but America requires me to hate it.’

“Touific had come to drive the Pachomian delegation to the airport at Damascus. He arrived on a Monday evening so that they might get a very early start on Tuesday morning. He arrived with a crumb of hashish for Switters, and they sat by the car now, smoking it in the faintly moon-painted desert. He also arrived with American offenses on his mind. Offenses in Iraq. Offenses in Yugoslavia. Those offenses made Touific angry, but mostly they made him sad. His large brown eyes seemed saturated with a kind of molten chocolate grief.

“’What is wrong with your great country?’ Touific lamented. ‘Why must it do these terrible things?’

“Switters held a cloud of candied smoke in his lungs. ‘Because the cowboys wiped out the buffalo,’ Switters said.

“’Everywhere a buffalo fell,’ said Switters, ‘a monster sprang up in its place.’

“Switters was going to list some monsters, but his mouth was dry, and he feared he couldn’t expectorate.

“’There’s a direct link between the buffalo hunts and Vietnam,’ said Switters.

“Straining to comprehend, Touific sighed with his eyes.

“’When Lee surrendered at Appomattox,’ said Switters, ‘it sealed once and for all Wall Street’s power over the American people.’

“Switters said, ‘There’s a direct link between Appomattox and genuine imitation leather.’

“’But,’ Touific lamented, ‘your country has so much.’

“’Well,’ said Switters, ‘it has bounce. It has snap. It has flux.’

“’Americans are generous and funny, the ones I have met,’ Toufic lamented, ‘but I am compelled to oppose them.’

“’It’s only natural,’ said Switters. ‘American foreign policy invites opposition. It invites terrorism.’”

“Switters said, ‘Terrorism is the only imaginable logical response to America’s foreign policy, just as street crime is the only imaginable logical response to America’s drug policy.’

Touific wanted to pursue this in greater detail, but the hashish was kicking in, and Switters was rapidly losing whatever interest he had in politics. ‘Politics is where people pay somebody large sums of money to impose his or her will on them. Politics is sadomasochism. I don’t want to talk about it anymore.”

Two hundred pages earlier in the book, Switters had this to say about American democracy and politics…

“Believe it or not, America’s a very insecure country. It’s been scared into a kind of self-imposed subjugation first by the imagined threat of Communism and then by the imagined threat of drugs. Maestra calls us an abusive democracy, one in which everybody wants to control everybody else. Lately, even tolerance, itself, has been usurped by the sanctimonious and the opportunistic, and turned into an instrument for intimidation, bullying and extortion. Yet the U.S. continues to pound its sternum and boast that it’s the home of the brave and the land of the free. If that’s brazen chutzpah rather than blind naiveté then I guess I can’t help but admire it.”

I don’t know what to say, anyway!


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