SKINNY LEGS AND ALL
By Tom Robbins
1990. Hardcover. 422pp. Bantam Books.
Ellen Cherry Charles was not expecting to travel to New York City in an Airstream shaped like a turkey. Nor was she expecting to make the journey as Mrs. Randolph “Boomer” Petway III, but here she is. Along the way, she and Boomer lose an old sock, a can of beans, and a small silver spoon in a cave where they stopped to picnic (and enjoy the activities newlywed couples traveling across the US enjoy). In the heat of their passion, Ellen Cherry insists Boomer call her “Jezebel,” a fascination started by her father and Uncle Buddy’s insistence that she withdraw from art school while chanting Jezebel at her as they removed her make-up and extolled the sins of Jezebel. Little did Boomer and Ellen Cherry know, but invoking Jezebel in that cave woke Painted Stick and Conch Shell, two holy objects seeking their rightful places in temples of Jerusalem. As Ellen Cherry and Boomer travel to New York City, the inanimate objects (which turn out to be animate) begin their journey to Jerusalem.
Once in NYC, Ellen Cherry finds herself to be increasingly dissatisfied with her lot as an artist as Boomer begins to gain recognition for his Airstream Turkey. The couple eventually is estranged and Ellen Cherry begins to work at a restaurant opened by an Arab and a Jew across the street from the UN. After a rocky start, the restaurant begins to get more popular with the hiring of the beautiful dancer Salome. Ellen Cherry learns about Jerusalem from her two bosses (and much more in between) as she works out where she fits in life as an artist and as a woman.
Of course, the basic plot of the book is not the entirety of the story. The connection between these disparate stories is the Dance of the Seven Veils, a dance that requires the dancer to let go of the veils that blind humanity from its essential truths. The novel is divided into seven sections, one for each veil, and as the story line progresses, the seven truths are revealed to the reader.
When I finished reading American Gods, I messaged my friend, Laura, for a recommendation that had a similarly American-mythology bend. Tom Robbins had that sort of magicky-myth vibe, but didn’t feel like the same theme, or even same genre. Since this was the first Tom Robbins book I’d read, I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but Laura has never given me a bad recommendation. This book didn’t rock my world like Snow Crash or The Diamond Age, but it was still very good.
I especially like Ellen Cherry Charles, particularly because of her frustration at her circumstances and her choices as a result of this frustration. She goes through an existential crisis very similar to the one I went through after graduating college. Where she questions her validity as an artist after moving to New York City and not producing as much art or gaining as much success as she thought she would in that hub of art and movement, I questioned what I really wanted to do with that four year degree I was sure was the right path for me. (Don’t get me wrong, I don’t regret getting that degree, it was just very difficult to find my path just after graduation.)
At first, I wasn’t as in to the book as I wanted to be, but as the veils kept dropping, my interest grew. I was going through a bit of a reading slump before starting this book and while reading the first half of it, but once Boomer went on his journey and Ellen Cherry (which is a fantastic name) starts working at the restaurant, I was hooked. It wasn’t a thrilling adventure or page-turning suspense novel, and the esoteric ideas get a little heavy sometimes, but overall, I really enjoyed this book.
I’m not very sure to whom I would recommend this book, especially considering I’m not very sure how to describe it if I was to recommend it to anyone. If someone was to ask me for recommendations that sounded like this would be a good fit, I would recommend it, but I wouldn’t go around trying to convince my friends to read it.