I read my first Tom Robbins a few years ago with 'Jitterbug Perfume' and I was struck by his writing style, and the inherent optimism and sexuality that runs through his story as the veins and life blood of his perspective. A friend gave it to me to read and against the advice of my mother [who doesn't seem to like anything he's written] I read it, loved it, and have devoured everything he's written since.
Man likes his ducks.
When I ran into 'Jitterbug Perfume' I hit a wall, it changed the way I thought about everything I experienced, and I recommend it to everyone I run into, and now, all of you.
Like 'About a Boy' [most famous example I can think of] the point of view changes with each chapter. Instead of going from one character to another, we go between four sets of characters, four unique stories. First in New Orleans, then Paris and Seattle and then to Alobar, a king a thousand years ago in what will one day be Britain. Alobar's character jumps in time each chapter until he meets up with the rest of the cast in the present day, as of the 1980s when it was written.
The plot is a deliciously sexy movement through sophisticated society toward the perfect perfume. A great amount of discussion is made about what makes the perfect perfume, what it will do to those who smell it or if it was achieved a long time ago and kept by the gods. But this is something they all have in common, a link to, obsession or fascination with perfume. In each city our main characters have lives of their own but move slowly toward each other, meeting in New Orleans at the culmination of their journeys. They each find a peace, but only after realising that what they were looking for was not what they needed, and after something of a speech from Alobar.
Alobar defied his death as a young man and searched during his life for the secret to holding on to it eternally. He found this secret and shared it with his wife, they enjoyed life as much as they could for hundreds, thousands of years. His avoidance of death, and the fear of death as a concept, is the underlying concept of the inspirational debate and discussion that goes on underneath the plot. Like all Tom Robbins' works, a fun and sexy plot is just the way we live our lives, the philosophy that fills the pages are the thoughts we have, the doubts we share and the resolutions we come to.
Jitterbug Perfume' isn't anti-religion or anti-atheism, nor do I think Tom Robbins was trying to enforce his opinion. But all the same the sheer depth of feeling in his writing was compelling. The helplessness in the discussion of death's inevitability was relatable and the sense of peace at the end is still with me. I still consider this my favourite novel of all time, it was my great American novel, and a huge turning point in my life.