Cameron Crow and Tom Robbins live in the same condo in my brain. Crow is the well-meaning nice neighbor while Robbins is perpetually ready for a casting call for Pineapple Express II. That said, they both put words together in ways that make my brain sit up and take notice.
My family went to see Crow’s latest concoction,, tonight. It was uneven, but not unsatisfying. Crow’s power exists in his ability to create a world and narrative arc in which he can pour wonderful lines to be spoken by capable actors.
Tonight featured Matt Damon’s character saying to his teenage son, “You know, sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage. Just literally twenty seconds of just embarrassing bravery. And I promise you, something great will come of it.”
They are words that only happen in literature and which I carry around with me in the emergency kit of my brain.
Robbins’s works are similar.
I first read Still Life With Woodpecker my junior year of high school as a way to offset the drudgery of hearing yet another book review of Red Badge of Courage.
I was amazed. I didn’t know what I had. I knew it was complex, poetic prose that used story as canvas and sentences as paint. I also knew it was a little dirty and a little beyond my understanding.
Still, there are moments in any Robbins book where I think he’s lost me and wonder if this might not be the book I decide to walk away from. Then passages like this from Still Life remind me why I keep reading:
Who knows how to make love stay?
1. Tell love you are going to Junior’s Deli on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn to pick up a cheesecake, and if loves stays, it can have half. It will stay.
2. Tell love you want a momento of it and obtain a lock of its hair. Burn the hair in a dime-store incense burner with yin/yang symbols on three sides. Face southwest. Talk fast over the burning hair in a convincingly exotic language. Remove the ashes of the burnt hair and use them to paint a moustache on your face. Find love. Tell it you are someone new. It will stay.
3. Wake love up in the middle of the night. Tell it the world is on fire. Dash to the bedroom window and pee out of it. Casually return to bed and assure love that everything is going to be all right. Fall asleep. Love will be there in the morning.
Robbins is not for everyone. He is an acquired taste. If you can acquire it, though, it is well worth the reading.
I was at a similar point when the credits rolled on Zoo tonight. Not everyone will love it (as reviews are showing), but those who love beautiful words and hang on will be happy they did.