Author takes the reader on twisted trips of bizarre imagination, with a hidden political undertone.
“It has been reported that Tanuki fell from the sky using his scrotum as a parachute. That is not so ridiculous when we take into account the unusual size of Tanuki’s scrotum, reads the opening paragraph of the novel “Villa Incognito.
This opening line is not shocking considering it was written by author Tom Robbins, the American scribe whose writing can be described as complex and uninhibited. If you are a Robbins novice, you will be caught off guard in his fantasy world of odd animal/human sexual escapades and unconventional adventures.
In a sense, the beginning intentionally misleads the reader about the theme of the book. The first 40 pages are rambles about a creature called a Tanuki, a naughty dog (Nyctereutes procyonoides), a canine species native to Japan. This particular one is promiscuous, getting Asian girls pregnant.
This mythical animal is reputed to be mischievous and jolly, a master of disguise, but somewhat gullible and absent-minded. In case you’re wondering, yes they do in fact have extra large scrotums taking up a third of their bodies.
Once past the first part of the book, the real plot line emerges and there is a profound shift in literary paradigm. The main characters are introduced: three conspiratorial American MIAs who have chosen to remain missing after the Vietnam War in their refuge of Villa Incognito in the highlands of Laos.
To fund their pleasant lives filled with women and champagne, they start up a business of refining poppy seeds into heroin and sell their wares to hospitals throughout Asia.
The plot kicks into high gear when one of our happy trio, Dern Folly, is arrested.
The other lads are Mars Albert Stubblefield, the philosopher, the professor and by default the leader, and Dickie Goldwire, the upper-class heartthrob from South Carolina (Robbins’ home state).
Goldwire is engaged to a pretty Asian girl, Lucy Ko, who trains tanukis for a living . coincidence? Thus the connection becomes apparent between the first and second part of this book. Perhaps Lucy Ko is a descendent of the Tanuki?
In “Villa Incognito, Robbins accessorizes this literary roller coaster with some eloquent metaphors and similes; he is after all a poet, dropping out of college in the 1960s to follow his literary leanings. After joining the US Air Force for three years, he decided to go back to college to pursue an undergraduate degree in art.
“Dickie s heart felt suddenly like an iron piano with barbwire strings and scorpions for keys, is one of the many sentences rich in analogies in the novel.
Absurd is this story, but although it is a fascinating world of imagination, it is still very much connected to real events and political references. Robbins challenges the mediocrity and corruption of the US and is clearly unpatriotic, bluntly stating that his characters would rather live incognito in the mountains of Fan Nan Nan than be war heroes back home.
Towards the end of the book, the Sept.11 attacks are referenced, and Robbins again reflects unpatriotic feelings through his fictional characters, uncommon and gutsy sentiments for an American.
Most of the stories take place in the Far East and are much entwined with the culture, which Robbins seems to know well as he has a master’s degree in Far Eastern studies from the University of Washington.
In an interview with Lawrence Gerald that originally appeared in High Frontiers Magazine, Robbins describes his writing as, “. non-linear. In writing, I like to be consistent with that model. At the same time, you do have to be lucid. If you can t be lucid, what s the point? Everyone uses language. Not everyone uses visual imagery, he said.
“Villa Incognito is his eighth novel after previous hits including “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, “Still Life with Woodpecker, and “Skinny Legs and All. His novel “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues (1976) was made into a movie in 1993 directed by Gus Van Sant.
According to Wikipedia, Robbins’ “approach might be vulgar, disgusting, absurd, or even offensive to the reader, but it is decidedly intentional. The desired effect is a disturbance just large enough to make the reader see it his way, allowing the readers to enjoy a perspective normally unavailable to them.
Although published in 2003, “Villa Incognito is Robbins’s latest novel. In 2005 he published a collection of non-fiction essays, reviews, and short stories entitled “Wild Ducks Flying Backward.
Villa IncognitoBy Tim RobbinsPaperbackNo Exit Press, 2004