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4.1 out of 5 stars
Still Life with Woodpecker
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146 of 156 people found the following review helpful
on December 8, 1999
Format: Paperback
A friend of mine gave me this book years ago (it seems to be one of those books that friends give to people) and while it didn't exactly change my life there and then, it cheered me up no end. I've tried and failed to read some of Robbins' other books - perhaps this once is unusually tight and brilliant, although it's still (as somebody says below) a "ride to the moon on a winebottle". The bomb recipes and the analysis of the iconography of the Camel packet are almost as good as the sex scenes, and Robbins writes extremely well about how good sex can be. (Glad to see that women seem to agree about this.) It was out of print in the UK for a long time, and whenever I found a secondhand copy I'd buy it and give to people I thought needed it. I haven't read it in a long time, but I'd recommend it as a perfect gift for a maiden aunt, a depressed teenager or anybody whose talent for happiness hasn't been exercised lately. There are books out there that exercise the higher centres of the brain more than this one, but fewer books are so mollifying to the glands.
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31 of 33 people found the following review helpful
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
This is a light and entertaining book from a word-play genius. What is amazing is the way he weaves so many stories into a tidy, compact little package - almost the size of a pack of cigarettes, as a matter of fact.
This is a story about a tarnished princess, an outlaw bomber with bad teeth, a scene stealing if somewhat undomesticated loyal servant, toads - both real and plastic, an exiled King and his "Oh-Oh, spaghetti-o" Queen, a CIA not-so-secret agent, an outraged Middle Eastern playboy, blackberries, Camels, Ralph Nader, pyramids and aliens from Argon.
What more could you possibly want in a book?
Tom Robbins has a genuine talent for words and puns, and those with active funny bones will be tickled throughout. His casual use of words like "slishy" and phrases like "I have a black belt in haiku" abound, to be discovered with unbridled delight.
This is a book to be enjoyed within one lunar cycle without fear of repercussions.
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46 of 52 people found the following review helpful
on April 30, 2000
Format: Paperback
Initially a fan of such classics as "Anna Karenina" and "Brothers Karamazov" I expanded my literary horizon to unthinkable boundaries after Tom Robbins' "Still Life With Woodpecker" fell into my hands. Robbins' insight on human behavior on both a social and intimate level along with satyrical humor and an outrageous plot make for a perfect blend. Robbins tells the story of a red-haired princess who falls for a rebelious bomber and their effort of "making love stay." The story line ranges from bizzare Argon aliens vacationing in Hawaii to Emirate sheiks building commercialist pyramids. Robbins' vivid imagination and outrageous similes paint a classic love tale in a crazy psychedelic picture. His original diction, and odd "interludes" create a truly authentic book, which makes for an enjoyable read and a crazy ride into a hyperbole of our time.
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41 of 46 people found the following review helpful
on January 18, 2000
Format: Paperback
Tom Robbins is a genius. I have read all of his novels. This is definetly one of my favorites. Still Life With Woodpecker explores everyones need for love. It defines how we see ourselves and each other. It dares to tell us, in an off the wall story line, how we love one another and always for the wrong reasons. The plot to this book is unpredictable to say it best, although Tom Robbins writes in a very unique way. You will either love his style or not be able to read twenty pages without remembering high school "literary works of art". I personally read this book in about 5 hours. I picked it up and the world ceased to exist. This is one of those books you can get lost in, and you begin to realize why you love to read, which to me is to escape the boring reality of the real world. In books people are who they are and do what they say. I also recommend Jitterbug Perfume, by Tom Robbins. This is my favorite out of all of them. If you are looking for an author similar to Robbins, the closest I have found is Richard Grant, I recommend Tex and Molly in the Afterlife. Enjoy Tom Robbins, you'll never quite read anything like him ever again.
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41 of 48 people found the following review helpful
on February 25, 2002
Format: Paperback
A friend of mine who knows I am a big Tom Robbins fan asked me to appear before her Reading Group to discuss another Robbins novel and I was asked to describe Robbins body of work. I said that Robbins collected works were sort of like a family of 12 where all the kids had one parent, say the mother, in common but all of whom had different fathers, and all of whom were raised in different religions. In a sense everybody's all together yet they are all over the place.
Robbins reminds me of Jonathan Lethem--a world-class author with a visionary imagination, a densely intellectual approach to writing, and a skewed worldview of epic proportions. Still Life is in reality pretty much an "average" Robbins novel, but that is in fact sort of like saying that the Hope Diamond is your "average" 80-carat diamond.
What sets Still Life apart for me is that, though written many years ago, it's totally contemporary. Ralph Nader is a major minor character--and what you see here about him is as relevant as it was when the book was written. The Woodpecker is essentially a professional bomber--but is he merely a criminal (terrorist?)or an outlaw (freedom fighter?)? There are Arabs as major characters--all in a state of internecine hostility. And the symbolic hooey--and there's plenty of it here--is as New Age as New Age gets, even though it predates New Age by an eon.
I'd read the book years ago and recently reread it and found it as engaging, thought provoking and quirkily amusing as ever. It's not many novels that can be a contemporary masterpiece of different decades. So, though there are better Robbins books out there, I definitely think Still Life with Woodpecker is a "must read" even today.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on October 13, 2000
Format: Paperback
"Read this book," I was told about fifteen years ago, "it will change your life." I read it and now distribute the book much like a missionary. While picking up several copies near the holiday season several years ago, the pretty redheaded cashier looked at me and said, "Have you read it?
"It changed my life," I told her.
"I know," she said, "it changed mine." (The book holds special significance for redheads.)
Such is the apparent cult following of this work and this author. Will it change your life? Maybe. Not everybody gets it; but everybody I have ever discussed the book with enjoyed it immensely.
What's the attraction? The book begins with the premise that "the last quarter of the twentieth century was a severe period for lovers," and suggests "only one serious question exists: Who knows how to make love stay?" What follows is a whimsical and zany love story. The answer to the question is not directly revealed, but the formula for its solution is provided. Yet, not everybody gets it.
The chapters are chopped up into relatively short narrative syllogisms, each proving a philosophical point. The author even taunts the reader about a third of the way into the story admonishing that "just when you thought you were settling into a good story, you realize philosophy is what you're getting." I have examined and studied the phenomena of this book and have come to the conclusion that, when reduced to its essence, it is Jungian philosophy disguised as kitsch entertainment. Jungian philosophy: the collective unconscious -- everything is connected. But Robbins takes aspects of such theory to the moon and beyond, and entertains the implication that truly all things are connected. The notion that consciousness is everywhere has been dubbed panpsychism by modern philosophy. Panpsychism, although not identified as such, is a recurrent theme in all of the author's subsequent works: it's his thing: "A camels pack, Adolph's Meat Tenderizer - almost all inanimate objects - are transparent doors to experience, if you know how to look through them." [p. 253] "There is meaning in everything, all things are connected. [p. 254] If you do not believe this read the author's next novel, "Skinny Legs and All," where three of the main protagonists are a fork, a spoon and a stick.
Although the author never uses the word, Robbins is imploring us to live outside the paradigm, which includes thinking, loving and feeling outside the paradigm. Embrace so-called insanities:
"There are essential and inessential insanities.
The latter are solar in character, the former are linked to the moon.
Inessential insanities are a brittle amalgamation of ambition, aggression, and pre-adolescent anxiety - garbage that should have been dumped long ago. Essential insanities are those impulses one instinctively senses are virtuous and correct, even though peers may regard them as coo coo.
Inessential insanities get one in trouble with one-self. Essential insanities get one in trouble with others. It is always preferable to be in trouble with others. In fact, it may be essential."
But what if you read the book and it does not change your life, will you still like the story? Tom Robbins is opposed to story summations (a position shared with J.D. Salinger), and plots for Robbins are just a medium for his message. The lovers in this story, Leigh-Cheri (a voluptuous cheerleader from Seattle, of royal parentage, presently in exile) and The Woodpecker (the pseudonym for a redheaded, romantic, anarchist bomber), are marvelous characters not soon to be forgotten. Tom Robbins "is a world-class story teller" and Thomas Pynchon agrees with me (the quote is his). We cannot both be wrong.
If I run into you on the street I just might give you a copy of this book. Rather than wait, I suggest you get it, read it, and pass it on. What's the worst that could happen?
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on January 11, 2000
Format: Paperback
I was reading this book while working as a file clerk in a large corporate company and I loved the book so much, that I would sneak into the back of the file room each day to read it. Needless to say, I missed out on 3 days of work! This book brings up the question "How do you make love stay," and Robbins offers up some enticing answers. My once brand-new paperback is now a mess of highlighted paragraphs and folded pages. "Woodpecker" is a brilliant, witty and thought-provoking novel that is impossible to put down once you pick it up. Do yourself a favor and read this book. If anything, you might gain some insight regarding life, love and the hidden meaning behind a pack of Camel cigarettes.
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on October 13, 2000
Format: Paperback
"Read this book," I was told about fifteen years ago, "it will change your life." I read it and now distribute the book much like a missionary. While picking up several copies near the holiday season several years ago, the pretty redheaded cashier looked at me and said, "Have you read it?
"It changed my life," I told her.
"I know," she said, "it changed mine." (The book holds special significance for redheads.)
Such is the apparent cult following of this work and this author. Will it change your life? Maybe. Not everybody gets it; but everybody I have ever discussed the book with enjoyed it immensely.
What's the attraction? The book begins with the premise that "the last quarter of the twentieth century was a severe period for lovers," and suggests "only one serious question exists: Who knows how to make love stay?" What follows is a whimsical and zany love story. The answer to the question is not directly revealed, but the formula for its solution is provided. Yet, not everybody gets it.
The chapters are chopped up into relatively short narrative syllogisms, each proving a philosophical point. The author even taunts the reader about a third of the way into the story admonishing that "just when you thought you were settling into a good story, you realize philosophy is what you're getting." I have examined and studied the phenomena of this book and have come to the conclusion that, when reduced to its essence, it is Jungian philosophy disguised as kitsch entertainment. Jungian philosophy: the collective unconscious -- everything is connected. But Robbins takes aspects of such theory to the moon and beyond, and entertains the implication that truly all things are connected. The notion that consciousness is everywhere has been dubbed panpsychism by modern philosophy. Panpsychism, although not identified as such, is a recurrent theme in all of the author's subsequent works: it's his thing: "A camels pack, Adolph's Meat Tenderizer - almost all inanimate objects - are transparent doors to experience, if you know how to look through them." [p. 253] "There is meaning in everything, all things are connected. [p. 254] If you do not believe this read the author's next novel, "Skinny Legs and All," where three of the main protagonists are a fork, a spoon and a stick.
Although the author never uses the word, Robbins is imploring us to live outside the paradigm, which includes thinking, loving and feeling outside the paradigm. Embrace so-called insanities:
"There are essential and inessential insanities.
The latter are solar in character, the former are linked to the moon.
Inessential insanities are a brittle amalgamation of ambition, aggression, and pre-adolescent anxiety - garbage that should have been dumped long ago. Essential insanities are those impulses one instinctively senses are virtuous and correct, even though peers may regard them as coo coo.
Inessential insanities get one in trouble with one-self. Essential insanities get one in trouble with others. It is always preferable to be in trouble with others. In fact, it may be essential."
But what if you read the book and it does not change your life, will you still like the story? Tom Robbins is opposed to story summations (a position shared with J.D. Salinger), and plots for Robbins are just a medium for his message. The lovers in this story, Leigh-Cheri (a voluptuous cheerleader from Seattle, of royal parentage, presently in exile) and The Woodpecker (the pseudonym for a redheaded, romantic, anarchist bomber), are marvelous characters not soon to be forgotten. Tom Robbins "is a world-class story teller" and Thomas Pynchon agrees with me (the quote is his). We cannot both be wrong.
If I run into you on the street I just might give you a copy of this book. Rather than wait, I suggest you get it, read it, and pass it on. What's the worst that could happen?
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17 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on June 4, 1999
Format: Paperback
While the story is semi-engaging, I found Mr. Robbins' writing style very self-conscious (i.e. he comes across as though he thinks a great deal of himself and how clever a writer he is). A lot of his "humor" falls flat (and he seems so doggedly determined to squeeze a joke out of absolutely everything!). In both of the novels I have read from Tom Robbins, the characters remained two-dimensional. In my mind, the great pleasure in reading novels is the feelings you develop for the individuals, their personalities, foibles, etc. But I don't get that from these people.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on June 24, 2001
Format: Paperback
4.5 stars actually. This book along with "Another Roadside Attraction" makes great introduction to this author. Robbins has a style that people either love or hate. His sometimes page long run on sentences might irritate some, but not this reader. This is one of his funniest novels. His description of Giulietta, the 80 year old. maid going on strike in front of the exiled royal family's home with a sign painted in a language no one passing by would be able to read, wearing nothing more than a pair of oven mits is hysterical. I found myself being able to fly through this novel very quickly. The pace is clear and crisp. My personal Robbins favorite is "Jitterbug Perfume", but that might be a bit too demanding for someone who has yet to experience the crazy world of Tom Robbins. Once one becomes hooked on his odd style, it's difficult not to want to read his entire body of work.
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