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Desert Solitaire
by Edward Abbey

Still Life With Woodpecker

Still Life With Woodpecker

Tom Robbins

Good writing makes us think about the world differently.  Great writing makes us want to write about it.  These statements may be false, but if they aren’t, then Tom Robbins is certainly a great writer.  He tells a story in such a way that it makes us root around in our minds for our own stories to tell.  As bizarre as Robbins’ tales are, there is nonetheless a formula, or at least a common aesthetic.  Step one: a protagonist who doesn’t necessarily possess extraordinary powers, but has an extraordinary perspective on the world.  Not a superhero, but an anti-hero, a misanthropic ne’er-do-well who skates by on charm and good luck.  Still Life With Woodpecker is a glorification of mischief, a hagiography of a saint who favors aesthetics over moral codes.  A red head, no less.  There is much to like.

Do I read a lot of books that have similar themes, or do I draw similar themes out of a lot of the books that I read?  I’m not sure.  Either seems plausible.  But one of the stories in Still Life is the story of social activism gone wrong.  Too much shouting, too many raised fists, too much anger and apocalypse and not enough juvenile good humor.  Too much stern finger-wagging, and not enough frenzied rump-shaking.  The Woodpecker, the flawed title character who is both protagonist and antagonist, detonates bombs not as a form of political protest, but only to shake things up for a bit of glee.  Not out of indignation, but just because it’s his style.  Blowing things up is just how he rolls.

Again and again, at the brink of transitions, I find myself asking: “What is the beautiful thing to do?”  Sometimes I guess wrong, and the beauty is an illusion.  But as a guiding principle, as an idiom, it continues to serve better than any other.  It’s my mantra, my broken record, my leitmotif.