Sunday, July 16, 2017

Tom Robbins

Many years ago, a friend suggested Even Cowgirls Get the Blues. I'd not read Tom Robbins before, and so filed his name away for sake keeping. Now, all these years later, I finished Cowgirls. Here are some thoughts: 

No doubt, the novel is a reflection of its time. Published in 1976, its themes hold a mirror to the era: environmentalism, women's liberation, protest, the list goes on. In some ways, this was refreshing: Robbins knew just what he wanted to say, and he leveraged popular tropes to deliver the message. But on the other hand, I found this somewhat tiresome: the theme of spiritual enlightenment, for instance, was rather cumbersome (mostly because it was so familiar). 

If I had my way, Cowgirls would have been shorter -- and a lot less zany. Because there's actually something going on here: there's a premise that's interesting, there are characters who are compelling. Sissy Hankshaw, especially, emerges as an alluring protagonist, as a compelling case study in the fractured notion of freedom. Ultimately, I wish there'd been more Sissy, and less prognostication from Robbins. 

Robbins had some fun writing Cowgirls, and there are moments when he veers a bit too heavily in that direction. But as I say, there are passages where his writing pops, and where Sissy's adventures take on a three-dimensional quality. It's when Robbins packs these adventures too tightly with themes of the day that the narrative takes a turn toward the predictable, and that Sissy, however alluring, however vulnerable, is reduced (regrettably) to a side story. 

If you've read the novel you'll know how much I'd like to give it two thumbs up, but it would have taken more focus on those thumbs for me to willingly grant that acclaim. 


  1. Good assessment. I remember being a bewildered fan when Robbins was in vogue, and the only detail from his work that I remember was his riff upon the rectal temperature of a hummingbird. Weird!

  2. I read some of it, and some of Another Roadside Attraction, but all of neither. His fiction struck me as very much a piece of his time, the 1970s.