Tom Robbins,
Skinny Legs & All
(Bantam, 1990)

Skinny Legs & All is Tom Robbins' take on Middle Eastern politics and the frenzy of the millenium, seen through the eyes of a silver dessert spoon, a can of pork-n-beans, a dirty sock, a sacred conch shell and a centuries-old painted stick. At least partly. Robbins spends the rest of the novel mocking the New York City art scene, expounding his theories on Goddess religion and Biblical lore, and mixing up a grab-bag of Southern-fried religion and ethnic entrepreneurship.

Welcome to the wonderful world of Tom Robbins.

The action revolves around Ellen Cherry Charles and Boomer Petway, newlyweds en route from Seattle to the art scene of New York City in an Airstream turkey. Unfortunately, art doesn't bode well for the couple, and wedded bliss soon becomes a wedded mess. Boomer runs off to Jerusalem, where he can weld to his heart's content, while Ellen Cherry takes up waitressing at Isaac and Ishmael's, a restaurant owned by an Arab and a Jew. (Talk about bad ethnic jokes!)

But the fun doesn't stop there. Events begin to escalate when a pock-faced Virginian evangelist, intent on rebuilding the Third Temple and ushering in the Second Coming (even if he has to do it by himself), comes to town, and a young Middle-Eastern nursing student named Salome bumps and grinds to the mind-altering Dance of the Seven Veils. In fact, New York City may become more of a war zone than the Holy City itself.

Skinny Legs & All moves through the events of the novel chronologically, occasionally moving to detail different parts of the same journey as seen through the eyes of the different characters. These sections are divided into chapters, in a sense, labeled as "the First Veil," "the Second Veil" and so forth. At the end of each section, Robbins details what will happen to humanity when each of these veils drop -- and the changes that must accompany each unveiling.

Robbins moves adeptly through these layers, effortlessly peeling away the veils of politics, religion, money, sex, marriage and art. His writing moves through the absurd to the insightful, constantly prodding at the hazy figures of these issues. While it's true that a Robbins novel is not an easy read, that doesn't stop one from lingering over each paragraph, whether it is to savor Robbins' eclectic, fresh turns of phrase or to riddle through his particular line of thought.

Each character is skillfully rendered with all the quirky habits and glorious idiosyncrasies that make us human. Robbins has a true gift for making the surreal real, for uncovering all the strange nuances of human existence and making us laugh at ourselves in the process.

What Robbins attempts (successfully, I might add) with Skinny Legs & All is an illustration of the turmoil in the Middle East, all without leaving the soil of contemporary America. Equally disarming, provocative and laugh-out-loud funny, Tom Robbins proves once again that he knows what is important and isn't afraid to point it out.

review by
Audrey M. Clark

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