Tom Robbins is a fabulous novelist whose jazz-like writing style grabs you and won't let go. In today's Wall Street Journal (go here), I interview Tom about his exotic, colorful house north of Seattle that makes great use of circus imagery and is known fondly as Villa de Jungle Girl. Tom's latest book is a memoir—Tibetan Peach Pie: A True Account of an Imaginative Life. Just order it here and read. Trust me on this one.[Above, Tom Robbins with his wife, Alexa, and dog, Blini. Photo by Wiqan Ang for The Wall Street Journal]
Below is an excerpt...
"Despite the brevity of our stay in Urbanna, [Virginia], the place left a mark on me that persists to this day Fresh from pre-Great Society, pre-network-TV Appalachia, I spoke with an accent that would have made the cast of The Beverly Hillbillies sound like the Royal Academy performing King Lear. There's no way I can accurately reproduce on paper the way I pronounced, for example, words such as 'night' or 'ice' or 'grass,' although I can report that I said 'far' for 'fire' and 'hain't' for 'ain't,' which could be a bit confusing, since back in Blowing Rock, [N.C.], we called a ghost a "haint." Imagine someone exclaiming, 'Looky thar in the winder! Hain't that a haint?'
"Naturally, the pupils at my new school made fun of the way I talked: kids are blunt in their reaction to deviation from their particular social norms. Alas, I was mocked by Urbanna's adults, as well. Once when Mother sent me to the store to buy a pound of sliced ham for supper, the butcher stared at me incomprehensibly, then demanded I repeat my order again and again. 'Slyced hame,' I kept saying, pronouncing 'ham' as if it rhymed with 'came' or 'lame.' Eventually my order was filled, though not before I had to point at what I wanted and everyone in the store enjoyed a laugh at my expense.
"Spurred by ridicule, I soon commenced to devote much time and effort to altering my manner of speech, practicing off and on throughout the day, laboring to talk as if I were somehow indigenous to tidewater Virginia. The results were not pretty. Sure, 'hain't' was no longer in my vocabulary and I could now order flesh of the pig without embarrassment, but overall what happened was that my elocution flattened out permanently into a kind of deflated Okie drawl.
"Today, my voice sounds as if it's been strained through Davey Crockett's underwear. While to my mind's ear, I might sound like an Oxford-educated intellectual, I have only to hear myself on tape to realize that in actuality mine is the voice of a can of cheap dog food—if a can of cheap dog food could speak. It's a Skippy voice. Not even that, a generic brand with a plain brown label. Thanks, at least in part to the jeerers and sneeres of Urbanna, I'm going through life with a voice that might be visualized as something scraped off the kitchen floor of a fast-food restaurant by a pimply teenage dishwasher at closing time on a Friday night. Or else that little pile of smashed potato chips left of the rubberized seat cushion of a motorized wheelchair belonging to a 365-pound retired female professional wrestler named Grandma Moses. Or else...well, you get the picture."