The Bookshelf: Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins

My, he looks horny....

My junior or senior year of high school, my poetry teacher suggested I read her favorite book at the time… Tom Robbins 1984 novel, Jitterbug Perfume.  It was only a few years old and I was far more interested in reading such deep and meaningful works such as Bukowski, Bukowski and a little Bukowski to round things out.  But there it sat in the back of my mind for almost 20 years.  I would find myself wandering around in a bookstore… trying to find something new to read… I would pause at the R section for a little while… look over his many titles… many of which sound familiar because they were made into movies or because of the multitude of friends I’ve seen toting around a worn copy of Still Life With Woodpecker or Even Cowgirls Get the Blues… and my mind would always go back to Mrs. Span telling me about Jitterbug Perfume.  What was it about?  Dancing?  Perfume?  Looking at the cover and reading the blurb made it seem even more incomprehensible than it had before.  

For whatever reason… one day, 20 years of resistance finally caved in.  I made a startling discovery.  I was in possession of what may be one of the greatest stories ever told (with all due respect to that other greatest story ever told), and I felt like part of a grand club.  Like I was in on the joke.  Like I got it.  And it… is virtually nothing… but feels like everything.  One of those stories that make you feel like you have been granted the understanding of some long lost universal truth.  Confused?  I would imagine so.

The story begins in the forests of Bohemia around the year 900 AD or so with King Alobar.  It is his people’s custom to kill the king at the first sign of aging… and he has sprouted a grey hair.  But instead of giving in to his supposed fate, he runs… and in the process discovers a great many things.  Most importantly, he discovers love…. and the ability to halt the aging process.  His great love is Kudra.  I’m amazed at how it is Mr. Robbins’ words that describe Kudra, yet I find myself thinking that mere words could never describe a woman as vibrant and beautiful, sensual and perfectly formed in every way as Kudra is.  The eroticism and passion between these two is palpable.  It is a love worthy of a thousand plus years.

Interspersed throughout the novel are three other tales as well… all of which take place in the present (or rather, 1984 present as opposed to 2010 present… you know what I mean). Priscilla, the “genius” waitress/chemist in Seattle who is working on replicating a scent.  V’lu and Madame Devalier, perfumers intent on rebuilding their business in New Orleans.  And finally, the LeFever Parfumaire in Paris… headed by “The Nose”, Marcel LeFever.  Why are these three disparate stories intertwined with a thousand year old love story that begins in ancient Bohemia?  I could never forgive myself if I told you any more.  Actually… I hope I didn’t already say too much.

Needless to say, I must highly recommend reading this book.  It is no small feat to cram an epic into such a small space.  It is wordcrafting at its’ finest.  Rarely will you read a story with such depth… such vivid images… romance… strange absurdist surprises… oh yeah, I forgot to mention… I don’t know much about Tom Robbins, but of the few of his books I’ve read… he’s a bit of a freak.  A good one by all means.  But there is a surreal, absurd and very deviant slant to everything in his writings… and I not only applaud that, but appreciate it to no end.

Enjoy the read… and remember… Erleichda,
Cornelius J. Blahg

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