Title: Jitterbug Perfume
Author: Tom Robbins
Publisher: Bantam Books
The chances of a reviewer creating a literary equation that sums up Tom Robbins is about as likely as a prehistoric cockroach mastering Einstein’s theory of relativity. It’s rare to come across a breed of author that veers from every canned concept of what sells a book to redefine what it is to be successful. It’s almost like a sick joke.
“What do you get when you breed J.R.R. Tolkien, Stephen Hawking, Richard Bach, Frank Herbert, and EL James?”
You get Tom Robbins.
Sitting down with Jitterbug Perfume is a sinful delight. The writing is so wonderful that you almost don’t care what the story is about. Like some sort of literary siren, you simply follow the prose to your doom.
This is the part of the review where I should give you a short synopsis about what the book is about. I’ll do that, but as a reader I’ll tell you that it really doesn’t matter. Just read it and enjoy the surprise.
I’ll describe it in the only way that would do Robbins justice. If an author is standing at a bar, and he mixes one part New Orleans perfumery, 8 ounces of Paris haute odeur, a splash of Seattle bisexual waitress mix, a juicy slice of ancient Bohemia, and an immortal umbrella, you have the basic plot for Jitterbug Perfume.
Wait, I forgot a pungent sex stirrer, just to be sure.
It may sound like I’m making fun of Robbins. I assure you it is quite the opposite. He’s written a masterpiece that I can’t quantify adequately. For you the jury, I present the very first paragraph of the book as ‘Exhibit A’:
“The beet is the most intense of vegetables. The radish, admittedly, is more feverish, but the fire of the radish is a cold fire, the fire of discontent not of passion. Tomatoes are lusty enough, yet there runs through tomatoes an undercurrent of frivolity. Beets are deadly serious.”
Robbins prose dances before you like a playful ballerina, at times playful and comedic, only to suddenly smack you across the face unexpectedly with a flash of seriousness. Along the way, he waxes poetic on a range of subjects such as sex, perfume, religion, beets, and the next step in the evolution of humans. He plays with the cornerstones of our moral foundation in a way that makes you stand back and look at the castle of civilization from a different viewpoint.
His wealth of knowledge on a variety of subjects is simply astounding. The detail with which he makes his arguments is unparalleled. Which, oddly enough, brings us to the greatest weakness in the last quarter of the book. The light step of the ballerina finally becomes mired in the science of the plot, and there are parts that come across as more of a lecture than a work of fiction.
Yet this one weakness hardly spoils the masterpiece. It’s the equivalent of the cherry stem at the bottom of our literary high-ball. It’s something not entirely edible that is still fun to spin around in your fingertips while you contemplate what you just read.
So, in my own obtuse review method, I leave this beet upon your doorstep.
Bottom Line: If Nike had published this book, their motto would have been “Just Read It”.
– Don Ellisor