Tibetan Peach Pie: A True Account of an Imaginative Life by Tom Robbins
Released: May 2014
Guest review by Melanie Page
Firstly, how can you resist the call to know more about Tom Robbins, legendary contemporary author of books like Even Cowgirls Get the Blues and Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates? If his name and playful prose style (the guy makes up catch phrases like “woo-woo”) aren’t enough to draw you in, here’s a bit about this huge tome:
Robbins claims Tibetan Peach Pie is not an autobiography and it’s not a memoir (“although it waddles and quacks enough like a memoir to be mistaken for one if the light isn’t right”). What you get are dozens of sections with brief titles like “holy tomato!” and “god bless bohemia.” Within those sections are smaller sections, often 2-3 paragraphs long. Robbins is basically breaking the book down into themes that he explores with brief stories from his life. He claims that the order is mostly chronological, which holds true. The first sections are things he did as a baby and then a boy, and we move into his marriages, publications, world travels, and controlled drug use (Tom Robbins, believe it or not, never used while writing--not even coffee). While it sounds like this could get jumbled, Robbins is a master at keeping his stories organized; they don’t jump around, and when he says he’ll “get to something more in a minute,” it’s in the very next section so that readers don’t forget the original connection.
Because Robbins was born long before TV (in 1932), storytelling is a vital part of who he is, and Tibetan Peach Pie demonstrates the oral tradition in a way that makes you want to read the vignettes aloud to those around you. Describing segregated Warsaw, Virginia, Robbins recalls a black preacher who drove a truck that said, “THE REVEREND EVER READY” on the side. The reverend would make stops to a race-friendly store where six or seven children would jump out of the truck and scatter. When it was time to leave, the reverend would yell, “All aboard! If you can't get a board, get a plank! If you can't get a plank, get your ass in the truck!” It’s specific memories like these that recall what people said and how they said it that makes Robbin’s “memoir” so readable. You can almost hear the language, see the children running for the truck. Robbins’s narrative paragraphs, too, read like someone telling you the story, not writing it.
His metaphors and similes are another thing you might remember from his novels, but if you’ve never experienced Tom Robbins, let me reassure you that this man compares the most mundane things to objects you would never think to pair. Because he grew up in North Carolina and Virginia and then later moved to the west coast, Robbins claims, “Today, my voice sounds as if it's been strained through Davy Crockett's underwear. While to my mind's ear, I might sound like an Oxford-educated intellectual, I have only to hear myself on tape to realize that in actuality mine is the voice of a can of cheap dog food--if a can of cheap dog food could speak.” When Robbins describes one of his trips around the globe, he confirms for readers that hippos are the most dangerous animals in jungles: “The hippopotamus is a vegetarian but ferociously territorial (you might find that true of certain vegans you know), and will flip a raft or bite it in half: once one is in the water, the crocodiles show up like a bunch of starving hobos descending on a boxcar full of fried chicken.” It’s the creativity to think of crocodiles as those rail-riding hobos and hippos as shouty vegans that makes him stand out among not only his contemporaries, but any writer.
My favorite example of Robbin’s using a simile is when as a boy he must shake the hand of a preacher whom he does not like because “...shaking his hand was like being forced to grasp the flaccid penis of a hypothermic zombie.” Robbins may be 82 now, but he’s kept up on pop culture just fine (and thus the zombie reference). He makes fun of Sarah Palin and e-books (how can his writing be reduced to those tiny 0s and 1s??). This is not a guy frozen in time wishing for “the good old days.” Each day is a new adventure, a new challenge, and I’m not even sure Robbins suggests he’s ready to slow down. A highly recommended and addicting read!
Melanie Page is a MFA graduate, adjunct instructor, and recent founder of Grab the Lapels, a site that only reviews books written by women (www.grabthelapels.weebly.com).