Tibetan Peach Pie: A True Account of an Imaginative Life
- Tom Robbins
- 384 pp.
- Reviewed by David L. Robbins
- June 26, 2014
Discover the fascinating man behind Tom Robbins’ novels in this creative memoir that also reveals an inner child who refuses to age.
In the very first words of Tibetan Peach Pie, iconic author Tom Robbins (Even Cowgirls Get The Blues, Jitterbug Perfume) insists that this, likely his last book, is not an autobiography: “This is not an autobiography. God forbid! Autobiography is fueled by ego and I could make a long list of persons whose belly buttons I’d rather be contemplating than my own.”
Where Robbins got the idea that a memoir is not also fueled by ego, no one can guess. But, hey, who knows where Robbins gets any of his ideas? A giant-thumbed hitchhiker, a talking soup can, a kindergarten spelling primer for beer: his writings are a circus tent of marvels, a carnival row of freaks and frolics. Robbins’ writings defy quibbles like memoir versus autobiography. Who cares if the scaly gal is actually an alligator or if the hairy kid is a real gorilla? You paid your money; you’re in the tent. Why do yourself the disservice of looking behind the curtain? Let the Wizard pull his levers and step forward, Scarecrow. (I know I’m mixing imagery here, but I just finished a Tom Robbins book, and I’m a little muddled.)
Tibetan Peach Pie is vintage Robbins. It’s pyrotechnic in language, labyrinthine in logic, daunting in voice, threaded with his wonderfully esoteric wit, and daring in the juxtaposition of humility and, make no mistake, ego.
Come on. You don’t get to be Tom Robbins — you don’t gin up descriptions of a jelly donut as “that plump pastry Pantheon, that unbroken circle, that holy tondo, that doughy dome of heaven, that female breast swollen with sweetness, that globe of glorious goo, that secret round nest of the scarlet-throated calorie warbler, that sun whose rays so ignite the proletariat palate…that orb, that pod, that crown, that womb, that knob, that bulb, that bowl, that grail” — without ego.
Tibetan Peach Pie is more than creative memoir; it’s a dialectic about the value of a life spent in the thrall of creativity. This is not a book about a great writer growing old; it’s about an inner child who refuses to. Alongside splendidly amusing anecdotes of his early youth, followed by a perpetual immaturity, Robbins details his affinity for Eastern wisdom and artistic motifs, which first unlocked his heart, then his soul, then his words.
For as long as he can remember (and his memory is exquisitely kaleidoscopic: the colors, the shapes, the shifts!) Robbins has pushed against the boundaries of the physical world, armed only with imagination and a flexible sense of decorum. He’ll eat or drink almost anything (he’s a global gastronome who drank ink as an infant and once imbibed perfume at a party to shock Al Pacino), will wear almost anything (cowboy outfits in Tokyo, a naked, red-smeared fanny to imitate a baboon in college, and a mouse mask at his desk as a young news reporter) loves hard and often (married a gal he’d known for five minutes, and she asked him), and has scoured the inner world (philosophy, art, books, and LSD) and the wider planet (safaris, adventure rafting, Timbuktu, and Hollywood) for just a glimpse, a tingle, a sniff, a taste of enlightenment. It seems Robbins has spent his eighty-plus years throwing himself against the wall to see what sticks.
Tibetan Peach Pie paints hijinks and lowbrow, bad-boy behavior in the same neon palette as high-life hobnobbing and famous author limo rides. It’s all the same to him, it’s all bright, and that’s one of the characteristics which make this memoir authentically charming. Robbins is not unaware, not at all. It’s his awareness that creates the framework. At times profane, others profound, the renowned author sits back here, enjoys the view from the pinnacle and the quirky path he took, sips a good scotch, and says with a wave of his hand, “I know, I know.” He barely believes it himself.
The result is unvarnished. Where Robbins’ fictional prose is purposefully over-the-big-top (he’s loved the circus since he tried to run away with one as an nine year-old; of course, a girl was involved), Tibetan Peach Pie, with its string of episodes and stories, descriptions of the places which shaped him, the people who touched him, the many flights of fancy and philosophy, and the occasional grinded axe, features an almost naïve voice. There’s less strain in the metaphors, a flowing ease, and a relatable storyline. The style strikes the reader familiar with Robbins’ oeuvre as if it was written by the man who hopes one day to become Tom Robbins, not the man who is.
Like any sideshow, the way to draw you in is to point a cane at the exotic posters, challenge your beliefs, and bark in your face. Step right up, read about an old car that ran “like Joan Rivers, on and on,” and experience a kiss through Robbins’ eyes: “At the meeting of our lips, peacocks went into hiding, elephants suffered memory loss, camels developed a maddening thirst, and dinosaurs long thought to be extinct turned up on the evening news.”
He fondly remembers Richmond, VA, where Robbins attended college: “With its heroic statues, its blossoms, its birds, its boughs, its high-tea manners and grits and sorghum hospitality; with its cautiously frisky, intoxicating springs, and its horsey, gilt-edged falls, Richmond was a study in slowly barbecued, lightly salted grace.” And Seattle, his adopted home, is “the mild green queen; wet and willing, cedar-scented, and crowned with slough grass, her toadstool scepter tilted toward Asia, her face turned ever upward in the rain; the sovereign who washes her hands more persistently than the most fastidious proctologist…this clam-chawed outpost bathed in oyster light.”
Tibetan Peach Pie is, in some ways, the explanation many of us who read Robbins’ books wished we had. Over five decades, we muttered, “Where the hell does this guy come up with this stuff?” In this exotic, quotidian, bucolic, sophisticated, navel gazing, panoramic memoir autobiography, this loving comedy of unfortunate manners, Robbins does not riff on his work, only himself.
In the end, all this time, he was every bit as fascinating as a character in a Tom Robbins novel. If you love his writing — and this may be the last of it you see — you will finish your piece of Tibetan Peach Pie truly loving the writer.
David L. Robbins, a freelance writer since 1981, is the author of 10 novels. He founded the James River Writers, a nonprofit group in Richmond, Va., and is the co-founder of The Podium Foundation, which works with educators and students to support the teaching and practice of writing. His latest novel, The Empty Quarter, is available from Thomas & Mercer. Contact him at authordavidlrobbins.com.