Jitterbug Perfume: Lusty Adventures in Time and Metaphor

Following is a discussion board posting assignment from my English 1B class.  We were asked to write about a work of fiction and its effect on us.  I didn’t have to think very hard about which work of fiction I’d write about: Tom Robbins’ Jitterbug Perfume has been my favorite novel pretty much forever.  However, I had fun thinking about *why* it’s my favorite and connecting with the impact the book has had on me over the years:

My favorite author, Tom Robbins, was my favorite author even before he wrote my favorite novel of all time.  My copies of Robbins’ first three books, Another Roadside Attraction, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, and Still Life with Woodpecker (especially the latter) were tattered and dog-eared with repeated readings long before I got my hands on Jitterbug Perfume.  It was 1985, and I was a twenty-one year old single mom, coping with a new baby and a new job and muddling my way through life.  Jitterbug Perfume was my ticket to a fantastical rocket-ride of metaphorical madness, spiritual surmising, and time-skipping adventure, and I loved it utterly.  My rebellious side adored Robbins’ habit of taking liberties with the English language that would undoubtedly be frowned upon in polite society.  While stretching the art of the metaphor to ridiculous lengths at every turn, Robbins coins new words to suit his language-twisting purposes and pursues (seeming) tangents and (apparently) unnecessary asides till the reader is all a-tangle in his fanciful, sermonistic, even cartoonish prose, only to tie up every crazily flapping loose end in a manner that somehow includes both the delicious itch of tantalization and the sweet release of complete satisfaction (this is the most Robbins-esque sentence in this paragraph, by the way).  Upon reaching the end of Jitterbug Perfume, I burst into tears and immediately flipped back to the beginning and started over.  Since those first back-to-back readings, I have read the book over and over, including once aloud, cover to cover, to my sweetheart.  I never tire of the story, which is densely plotted across time (from the days when the earth was flat to nine o’clock tonight, Paris time) and space (from ancient Bohemia and the Far East to present-day Seattle, New Orleans, and the aforementioned Paris).  Lyrical, silly, romantic, epic, lusty, and illuminating, Jitterbug Perfume never fails to delight and inspire me.  The book blew my burdened, restless young mind open to the extreme possibilities of writing, transforming the art of writing and the English language itself into something decidedly un-boring and sexy in my eyes.  I often wonder if another book will ever come along to tickle and twist and educate my mind as much as Jitterbug Perfume.  Perhaps one day the right book will come along at the right time and once again blow my skull delightfully apart, dethroning Mr. Robbins as my favorite author and deepest influence of all time.  I sort of hope so… and sort of not.

One Comment

  1. Barbara:

    I think it was 1978, when some writer friends of mine invited me on a trip to LaConner. They were excited to have made a connection with other friends to Tom Robbins. A date to play basketball with him was scheduled. I knew you liked Robbin’s books and took you along. You were 14 or 15. Robbins showed up at the gym after a while, and shot a few hoops. You were enthusiastically included in the session because you could play ball. Everybody seemed to be having a good time. Robbins left after a while and we talked about him pretty much the whole way home. Remember? –Mombo

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