Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates (8 cassettes)

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Eight cassettes, approx. 12 hours
Performance by Keith Szarabajka
In Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates the wise, witty, always gutsy Tom Robbins brings onstage the most complex and compelling character he has ever created.
Switters is a contradiction for all seasons: an anarchist who works for the government; a pacifist who carries a gun; a vegetarian who sobs up ham gravy; a cyberwiz who hates ...
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Overview

Eight cassettes, approx. 12 hours
Performance by Keith Szarabajka
In Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates the wise, witty, always gutsy Tom Robbins brings onstage the most complex and compelling character he has ever created.
Switters is a contradiction for all seasons: an anarchist who works for the government; a pacifist who carries a gun; a vegetarian who sobs up ham gravy; a cyberwiz who hates computers; a robust bon vivant who can be as squeamish as any fop; a man who, though obsessed with the preservation of innocence, is aching to deflower his high-school-age stepsister (only to become equally enamored of a nun ten years his senior).
Yet there's nothing remotely wishy-washy about Switters.  He doesn't merely pack a pistol.  He is a pistol.  Robbins has said that throughout the writing of Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates, he was guided by the advice of Julia Child: "Learn to handle hot things.  Keep your knives sharp.  Above all have a good time."
Perhaps that is why he has managed to write a provocative, rascally novel that takes no prisoners-and yet is upbeat, romantic, meaningful, adventurous, edifying, and fun.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Imaginary Invalid

Like many of his characters, Tom Robbins appears to thrive on contradictory stimuli. His last novel, Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas, set its account of spiritual enlightenment and extraterrestrial influences against the credibly rendered backdrop of a faltering stock exchange. His latest, Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates, is also concerned with the quest for enlightenment but chooses for its hero a renegade operative for that supremely unenlightened, reflexively conservative institution, the Central Intelligence Agency.

The operative in question is named, simply, Switters, and he gives new meaning to the phrase "loose cannon." Switters, along with a number of his fellow agents, sees himself as an "angel," a subversive element dedicated to opposing the "cowboys" of the CIA, those zealots who have done so much damage in the name of our national interests. A born anarchist, Switters meditates, indulges in mind-altering substances, reads and rereads Finnegans Wake, and obsessively ponders the fate of language in the cybernetic future that is rapidly taking shape around us. He is the antithesis of such traditional CIA employees as his pompous—and perfectly named—superior, Mayflower Cabot Fitzgerald.

Fierce Invalids begins when Switters, who is bound for Peru on Company business, agrees to perform an act of mercy for his octogenarian grandmother, who wants him to return her pet—an aging parrot named Sailor Boy—to its ancestral home in the Amazon rain forest. Switters's mission is interrupted when a British ethnographer—R. Potney Smithe—introduces him to a tribal shaman named, variously, End of Time and Today is Tomorrow, whose head is shaped exactly like a pyramid, and who believes that laughter is one of the animating forces of the universe. Switters spends a single hallucinatory night in End of Time's company, in the course of which he eats his grandmother's parrot and takes a drug-induced trip through "the Hallways of Always," where the secrets of the cosmos reside. In the dazed aftermath of revelation, he learns that arcane knowledge exacts a heavy price. From that day forward, Switters is forbidden—on literal penalty of death—to rest his feet on solid ground.

That is merely the beginning of this wild, unsummarizable tale, a contemporary picaresque in which Switters travels—sometimes by wheelchair, sometimes with the aid of stilts—from one continent to another, finding love, adventure, and spiritual fulfillment as he attempts to come to terms with the magically altered circumstances of his life. His travels take him from Peru to Seattle, from Seattle to Syria, and from Syria to a climactic encounter in Vatican City. Along the way, he encounters a number of bona fide miracles, meets the model for a famous nude portrait by Henri Matisse, uncovers the lost prophecy of the Lady of Fatima, and attempts—with varying degrees of success—to seduce both his 16-year-old stepsister, Suzy, and a 46-year-old cloistered nun named Domino Thiry (pun most definitely intended).

As in most of Robbins's novels, the rambling narrative is designed primarily to accommodate the author's steady stream of observations on the quality of life at the tail end of the 20th century. The result is a baroque, gently didactic novel in which Robbins comments, with wit, acuity, and an increasing sense of personal urgency, on the inadequacy of our political and religious institutions, on the public and private sources of our prevailing spiritual malaise, and on our willing submission to the dictates of a ravenous consumer culture. In the face of all these things, Robbins—like his fictional Peruvian shaman—continues to insist on the primal power of laughter and continues to believe that joy is possible, that dullness of spirit is the one unforgivable sin.

In Fierce Invalids, as in his earlier novels, Robbins's philosophy of joie de vivre is endlessly reflected in the moment-to-moment deployment of his lush, intricate style. There are no dead spaces in a Robbins novel, no drab or perfunctory phrases. Every sentence carries its weight. Every sentence adds something distinctive to the overall ambience of the narrative. Here, for example, is a brief reflection on the quiet pleasures of Seattle's weather:

[Switters] liked its subtle, muted qualities, and the landscape that those qualities encouraged if not engendered: vistas that seemed to have been sketched with a sumi brush dipped in quicksilver and green tea...
And here is a smoke ring, its evanescence captured forever:
He expelled a dancing doughnut of smoke. Like every smoke ring ever blown—like smoke, in general—it bounced in the air like the bastard baby of chemistry and cartooning.
Fierce Invalids is animated throughout by the "mindful playfulness" that is Robbins's dominant aesthetic characteristic. While it is unlikely to win over his numerous detractors (who will doubtless decry its relentless—and deliberate—"self-indulgence"), it will surely strike his many admirers as cause for celebration. Tom Robbins is a genuine original, a philosopher clown whose skewed perspective is both startling and illuminating. Like the best of his earlier books, Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates is humane, funny, and deeply adventurous fiction, a vibrantly comic refutation of the angst-ridden spirit of the age.

—Bill Sheehan

Barnes & Noble Guide to New Fiction
Best-selling author Robbins gets his two cents in on every hackneyed social evil from advertising to dogmatism in his latest wacky, wit-filled work. This latest tale of whimsy introduces a pot-smoking, teenager-shagging CIA agent who travels the globe in hopes of shaking a South American shaman's curse.
Playboy
Switters, the addled hero of Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates, practically bursts off the page....
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Fans of Robbins (Jitterbug Perfume; Still Life with Woodpecker) will be delighted to find that his first book in almost six years contains many of the elements they have come to expect from this imaginative author. Sex, sedition and similes abound in a tale of loves both indictable and divine. Unlike Robbins's previous work, however, the novel's story line, though typically eclectic, feels contrived. Switters, the protagonist, is an errand boy for the CIA, a secret lover of Broadway show tunes and a pedophile. On assignment in Peru (he has been ordered to verify the philosophical commitment of a new CIA recruit), Switters encounters a Kandakandero medicine man who gives him mind-altering drugs and wisdom, but in exchange inflicts a curse: if Switters's feet ever touch the ground, he will be struck dead instantly. So Switters spends the rest of the novel in a wheelchair, although this in no way slows him down. He returns to Seattle, chases after his 16-year-old stepsister and numerous art students, then embarks on a mission to Syria to sell gas masks to Kurds; there, he beds a nun who even so remains a virgin. In true Robbins style, the writing throughout is lush and sexy, containing a great deal of witty social and political commentary. But this time around, his story fails to catch hold until too far into the text. And although Robbins's signature prose is in effect here--he mentions, for example, "a pink wink of panty"--he leaves too many loose ends dangling.
Library Journal
A witch doctor with a pyramid-shaped head, an aged parrot whose only words are "People of zee wurl, relax," and an isolated band of nuns that possesses the last remaining copy of the Virgin of Fatima's mysterious third prophecy all figure into Robbins's latest seriocomic foray. Wheelchair-bound Switters, the "fierce invalid" of the title, is a wisecracking CIA operative and James Joyce aficionado. While in South America meeting a new recruit, he journeys to the Amazon, where a witchdoctor places a bizarre curse on him: he will die immediately if his feet ever touch the ground. Switters takes on a mission to the Middle East for a renegade ex-agent. Sidetracked in the Syrian Desert, he forms an unlikely alliance with the nuns as they battle the Vatican for ownership of the prophecy. Best-selling author Robbins (Even Cowgirls Get the Blues) balances the comic and the cosmic much as a juggler might balance a kitchen chair on a spoon. Highly recommended. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 2/1/00.]--Lawrence Rungren, Merrimack Valley Lib. Consortium, Andover, MA Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780553527322
  • Publisher: Random House Audio Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 5/28/2000
  • Format: Cassette
  • Edition description: Unabridged, 10 cassettes, 12 hrs.
  • Product dimensions: 4.15 (w) x 6.17 (h) x 2.67 (d)

Meet the Author

Tom Robbins
TOM ROBBINS has been called "a world-class storyteller" by Thomas Pynchon, "one of the wildest and most entertaining novelists in the world" by the Financial Times of London, and "the most dangerous writer in the world today" by Fernanda Pivano of Italy's Corriere della Sera.  A Southerner by birth, Robbins has lived in and around Seattle since 1962.

Biography

So much mythology swirls around Pacific Northwest novelist Tom Robbins that sorting fact from fiction is a daunting challenge. Born Thomas Eugene Robbins in 1936 in Blowing Rock, North Carolina, he was raised from age 11 on in a suburb near Richmond, Virginia. He attended Washington and Lee University but did not graduate. Instead, he quit college and spent a year hitchhiking, settling for a while in New York City.

Robbins enlisted in the Air Force in 1957, just one step ahead of the draft, and served three years in Korea. Upon discharge, he moved back to Virginia to attend art school at Richmond Professional Institute (now Virginia Commonwealth University), graduating in 1961. During this time he worked as a copy editor for the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

According to Robbins, the South's hidebound racism -- perfectly mirrored in the newspaper's policy -- prompted him to move as far away from Richmond as possible "while still remaining in the continental United States." He ended up in Seattle in the early 1960s, enrolled in the University of Washington to pursue his Masters, and went to work for the Seattle Times. If we are to believe the story, it was around this time that he first sampled LSD (not yet an illegal substance). Blown away by the experience, he chucked both grad school and his job at the paper and spent the rest of the decade bouncing between the East and West Coasts -- writing, working as a DJ in alternative radio, and partaking liberally of the countercultural smorgasbord of the day.

Towards the end of the '60s, Robbins began working seriously at his writing, culminating in 1971 with the publication of his first novel, the comic absurdist tale Another Roadside Attraction. A failure in hardcover, it nevertheless sold well as a paperback, prompting publishers to release his next book -- 1976's Even Cowgirls Get the Blues -- in both formats simultaneously. Although he has not been a hit with most mainstream critics, Robbins has achieved rarified cult status with successive generations of 20-somethings who adore his goofy, upbeat satirical fiction. He claims to never read reviews but is pleased to have enjoyed a steady string of bestsellers starting with Still Life with Woodpecker in 1980. In 2005, he produced Wild Ducks Flying Backward, a volume of shorter works, including poems, stories, essays, articles, and reviews.

Rumor has it that Robbins polishes each sentence to perfection before moving on to the next. Whether or not that's true, he does admit to being a slow writer -- and to needing a long period of rest and recuperation (usually involving travel to some exotic place) in between books. All of which explains why his output is surprisingly slender, especially for a writer who inspires such passionate, fanatical devotion!

Good To Know

Here are some fun facts (and perhaps some fun fiction, as well!) about Tom Robbins:

  • An accomplished artist, Robbins is one of only a handful of writers to have cover design built into their book contracts.
  • When Elvis Presley died of an overdose in his bathroom on August 16, 1977, there was rumored to be a copy of Another Roadside Attraction on the floor beside him.
  • While working as a journalist and DJ in Washington state, Robbins attended a 1967 Doors concert in Seattle. He claims that the origins of his unique writing style can be found in that piece.
  • Robbins has enjoyed friendships with a group of widely people, from '60s countercultural icons like Alan Ginsberg and Timothy Leary to mythologist Joseph Campbell (with whom he once traveled to South America.
  • Robbins has appeared in several films, including Made in Heaven, Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle, Breakfast of Champions, and Gus Van Sant's 1993 adaptation of Even Cowgirls Get the Blues.
  • Read More Show Less
      1. Hometown:
        LaConner, Washington
      1. Date of Birth:
        July 22, 1936
      2. Place of Birth:
        Blowing Rock, North Carolina

    Read an Excerpt

    Lima, Peru
    October 1997

    The naked parrot looked like a human fetus spliced onto a kosher chicken. It was so old it had lost every single one of its feathers, even its pinfeathers, and its bumpy, jaundiced skin was latticed by a network of rubbery blue veins.
    "Pathological," muttered Switters, meaning not simply the parrot but the whole scene, including the shrunken old woman in whose footsteps the bird doggedly followed as she moved about the darkened villa. The parrot's scabrous claws made a dry, scraping noise as they fought for purchase on the terra-cotta floor tiles, and when, periodically, the creature lost its footing and skidded an inch or two, it issued a squawk so quavery and feeble that it sounded as if it were being petted by the Boston Strangler. Each time it squawked, the crone clucked, whether in sympathy or disapproval one could not tell, for she never turned to her devoted little companion but wandered aimlessly from one piece of ancient wooden furniture to another in her amorphous black dress.
    Switters feigned appreciation, but he was secretly repulsed, all the more so because Juan Carlos, who stood beside him on the patio, also spying in the widow's windows, was beaming with pride and satisfaction. Switters slapped at the mosquitoes that perforated his torso and cursed every hair on that hand of Fate that had snatched him into South too-goddamn-vivid America.
    Boquichicos, Peru
    November 1997

    Attracted by the lamplight that seeped through the louvers, a mammoth moth beat against the shutters like a storm. Switters watched it with some fascination as he waited for the boys to bring his luggage up from the river. Thatmoth was no butterfly, that was certain. It was a night animal, and it had a night animal's mystery.
    Butterflies were delicate and gossamer, but this moth possessed strength and weight. Its heavy wings were powdered like the face of an old actress. Butterflies were presumed to be carefree, moths were slaves to a fiery obsession. Butterflies seemed innocuous, moths somehow...erotic. The dust of the moth was a sexual dust. The twitch of the moth was a sexual twitch. Suddenly Switters touched his throat and moaned. He moaned because it occurred to him how much the moth resembled a clitoris with wings.
    Vivid.
    There were grunts on the path behind him, and Inti emerged from the forest bearing, somewhat apprehensively, Switters's crocodile-skin valise. In a moment the other two boys appeared with the rest of his gear. It was time to review accommodations in the Hotel Boquichicos. He dreaded what he might find behind its shuttered windows, its double-screened doors, but he motioned for the boys to follow him in. "Let's go. This insect--" He nodded at the great moth that, fan though it might, was unable to stir the steaming green broth that in the Amazon often substitutes for air. "This insect is making me feel--" Switters hesitated to utter the word, even though he knew Inti could understand no more than a dozen simple syllables of English. "This insect is making me feel libidinous."
    From the Hardcover edition.
    Read More Show Less

    First Chapter

    Lima, Peru
    October 1997

    The naked parrot looked like a human fetus spliced onto a kosher chicken. It was so old it had lost every single one of its feathers, even its pinfeathers, and its bumpy, jaundiced skin was latticed by a network of rubbery blue veins.

    "Pathological," muttered Switters, meaning not simply the parrot but the whole scene, including the shrunken old woman in whose footsteps the bird doggedly followed as she moved about the darkened villa. The parrot's scabrous claws made a dry, scraping noise as they fought for purchase on the terra-cotta floor tiles, and when, periodically, the creature lost its footing and skidded an inch or two, it issued a squawk so quavery and feeble that it sounded as if it were being petted by the Boston Strangler. Each time it squawked, the crone clucked, whether in sympathy or disapproval one could not tell, for she never turned to her devoted little companion but wandered aimlessly from one piece of ancient wooden furniture to another in her amorphous black dress.

    Switters feigned appreciation, but he was secretly repulsed, all the more so because Juan Carlos, who stood beside him on the patio, also spying in the widow's windows, was beaming with pride and satisfaction. Switters slapped at the mosquitoes that perforated his torso and cursed every hair on that hand of Fate that had snatched him into South too-goddamn-vivid America.

    Boquichicos, Peru
    November 1997

    Attracted by the lamplight that seeped through the louvers, a mammoth moth beat against the shutters like a storm. Switters watched it with some fascination as he waited for the boys to bring his luggage up from the river. That moth was no butterfly, that was certain. It was a night animal, and it had a night animal's mystery.

    Butterflies were delicate and gossamer, but this moth possessed strength and weight. Its heavy wings were powdered like the face of an old actress. Butterflies were presumed to be carefree, moths were slaves to a fiery obsession. Butterflies seemed innocuous, moths somehow...erotic. The dust of the moth was a sexual dust. The twitch of the moth was a sexual twitch. Suddenly Switters touched his throat and moaned. He moaned because it occurred to him how much the moth resembled a clitoris with wings.

    Vivid.

    There were grunts on the path behind him, and Inti emerged from the forest bearing, somewhat apprehensively, Switters's crocodile-skin valise. In a moment the other two boys appeared with the rest of his gear. It was time to review accommodations in the Hotel Boquichicos. He dreaded what he might find behind its shuttered windows, its double-screened doors, but he motioned for the boys to follow him in. "Let's go. This insect -- " He nodded at the great moth that, fan though it might, was unable to stir the steaming green broth that in the Amazon often substitutes for air. "This insect is making me feel -- " Switters hesitated to utter the word, even though he knew Inti could understand no more than a dozen simple syllables of English. "This insect is making me feel libidinous."

    copyright © 2000 by Tom Robbins. All rights reserved.

    Read More Show Less

    Interviews & Essays

    Q: Fierce Invalids from Hot Climates is an unusual title. How did you come up with it?
    A: Actually, I excerpted it from a poem by the legendary French literary rebel Arthur Rimbaud. While it has quite literal significance within the context of my plot, it has wider meanings, as well. All of us who've managed to survive intense love affairs, political confrontations, or periods of personal debauchery might be said to be fierce invalids home from hot climates.

    Q: Is that what the new novel is about?
    A: It's about the CIA, the Virgin Mary, and the man who loves, hates, and redefines them both.

    Q: What else?
    A: It's about the possibility in today's world of combining a life of freewheeling sensuality and high adventure with a life of serenity, deep wisdom, and full consciousness.

    Q: Could you be more specific?
    A: Well, it's about a maverick secret agent and how he finds innocence and fun in a corrupt and dangerous world, has a deadly curse put on him, flirts with spiritual enlightenment, and learns to appreciate older women. That's as specific as I'm prepared to get. It's not that I'm being coy; I just don't want to spoil any surprises for the reader. I mean, aren't you sick of those film previews that give so much away you feel like you've already seen the movie twice? In my novels, the story line is so tightly integrated with the philosophy and the style (the language, itself) that to separate any one of those elements from the other two is to paint a false picture. Plot details taken out of context can seem "zany" (God, how I've come to dislike that word!), whereas, in point of fact, in the tapestry of the book, they not only make perfect sense but can perhaps cast an illuminating light on the nature of reality and what passes for the human condition.

    Q: How does Fierce Invalids differ from your previous six novels?
    A: It has a little less estrogen and a little more testosterone. As usual in my work, there are some strong female characters, but the main protagonist is a man. A rascally, contradictory, 21st-century Renaissance man.

    Q: Why in the past have you usually favored female protagonists?
    A: All my life I've cherished the company of females. It takes me 36 to 42 months to complete a novel. If you're going to be shut up in a room with someone every day for three years, it might as well be with someone whose company you enjoy.
    Equally important is the fact that employing women as my primary protagonists has allowed me to step outside of myself far more easily than were I to look at events from a masculine perspective -- and I'll go to almost any length to avoid the stain of autobiography.

    Q: You say your work is not autobiographical, and it certainly doesn't fit into any of the genre categories. How would you describe it, then?
    A: It's a hallucinogen, an aphrodisiac, a mood elevator, an intellectual garage-door opener, and a metaphysical trash compactor: It'll do everything except rotate your tires.

    Q: You've often mentioned your interest in Zen, Taoism, Tantra, and other Asian philosophies, but you obviously are also fascinated with American pop culture.
    A: There's a link there, really. With the exception of Tantric Hinduism, every religious system in the modern world has denied and suppressed sensuality. Yet sensual energy is the most powerful energy we as individuals possess. Tantric saints had the genius and the guts to exploit that energy for spiritual purposes. Food, drink, drugs, music, art, poetry, and especially sex, are used in Tantra in a religious manner. Tantrikas perfect the techniques of sensual pleasure and use the energy released as fuel for their God-bound vehicle, their rocket ride to enlightenment.
    Pop culture, in somewhat the same way, may be exploited for serious purposes. American pop has great energy, humor, vitality, and charm. It baffles me that so many serious novelists are reluctant to take advantage of that. When it comes to revitalizing the human spirit, sensitizing experience, and marrying a sense of wonder to the terrible truth, pop culture has infinitely more literary potential than, say, bad marriages, abusive childhoods, and psychopathic violence -- the favorite subjects of the academic and the dour.

    Q: When and why did you start writing?
    A: I started before I was old enough to know any better. My muse was a cradle robber, a child molester. She seduced an innocent, blue-eyed, towheaded, preliterate tot and turned him into a paragraph junkie. As a child, I wrote countless stories. In adolescence, I stopped creating fiction and channeled all that energy into basketball and cheerleaders, still two of my favorite things. Later, I expanded my enthusiasms to include journalism, art, mythology, psychedelic drugs, la belle époque, and various Asian schools of philosophy. Then, when I was about 32, I ran into my old love, Mademoiselle Fiction, and we have been inseparable ever since.

    Q: What were you like as a child?
    A: Well, I was all the Simpson siblings rolled into one. Like Bart Simpson, I was a rambunctious little troublemaker. At the same time, like Lisa, I was a highly sensitive, creative, artistic type. There was something of Maggie in me, as well, but I can't quite put my finger on it. There's probably a lot of the Simpson kids in me still.

    Q: At what point do you think you are in your career?
    A: Beats me. I've never considered that I have a career. I have a careen.

    Q: What kind of books do you like to read?
    A: In terms of subject matter, my literary taste is wildly eclectic (although I could survive quite nicely for several more lifetimes without reading another coming-of-age novel or neurotic saga of a dysfunctional family). The one thing I demand of an author is that he or she cares -- really cares -- about language. In general, I prefer the daring to the cautious, the poetic to the prosaic, the imaginative to the literal, the upbeat to the dreary, the quirky to the predictable, the comic to the sober, and the erotic to the chaste.

    Q: How does it feel to be named one of "The 100 Best Writers of the 20th Century" by Writer's Digest magazine?
    A: I'm sincerely flattered, but I'm old enough to know that if you allow yourself to puff up over your accolades, you're going to have to pay with your soul. Frankly, I was more excited when the celebrated Italian critic, Fernanda Pivano, called me "the most dangerous writer in the world today."

    Q: What did she mean by that?
    A: Well, I know she intended it as a compliment. According to Signora Pivano, what I've been saying in my work is that love and beauty and freedom are all that matter in life and that everything else is just a joke. For the self-satisfied, the money-crazed, and the unreflective, I suppose that is a dangerous message. The signora may be on to something. I admit I wouldn't mind pulling the rug out from under readers in such a way as to fracture their belief systems -- but only if it leaves them feeling better than ever about simply being alive.

    Read More Show Less

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    • Anonymous

      Posted October 31, 2004

      The Popes a killer......

      Jitterbug was his best book, this is his greatest story. What a tale and in turn what a bashing he deals christianity. Bless you Tom Robbins, we can learn to live and love now.

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