Switters, the addled hero of Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates,
practically bursts off the page....
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.
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.
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.\
Read an Excerpt
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.
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.
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 Trade Paperback edition.