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Authors: Tom Robbins

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Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates

BOOK: Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates
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Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates
Tom Robbins
Bantam (2000)

Switters is a contradiction for all seasons: an anarchist who works for the government; a pacifist who carries a gun; a vegetarian who sops up ham gravy; a cyberwhiz who hates computers; a man who, though obsessed with the preservation of innocence, is aching to deflower his high-school-age stepsister (only to become equally enamored of a nun ten years his senior). Yet there is nothing remotely wishy-washy about Switters. He doesn’t merely pack a pistol. He
a pistol. And as we dog Switters’s strangely elevated heels across four continents, in and out of love and danger, discovering in the process the “true” Third Secret of Fatima, we experience Tom Robbins—that fearless storyteller, spiritual renegade, and verbal break dancer—at the top of his game. On one level this is a fast-paced CIA adventure story with comic overtones; on another it’s a serious novel of ideas that brings the Big Picture into unexpected focus; but perhaps more than anything else, Fierce Invalids is a sexy celebration of language and life. Review

The fierce invalid in Tom Robbins's seventh novel is a philosophical, hedonistic U.S. operative very loosely inspired by a friend of the author. "Sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll are enormously popular in the CIA," claims Switters. "Not with
the agents in the field, but with the good ones, the brightest and the best." Switters isn't really an invalid, but during his first mission (to set free his ornery grandma's parrot, Sailor, in the Amazon jungle), he gets zapped by a spell cast by a "misshapen shaman" of the Kandakandero tribe named End of Time. The shaman is reminiscent of Carlos Castaneda's giggly guru, but his head is pyramid-shaped. In return for a mind-bending trip into cosmic truth--"the Hallways of Always"--Switters must not let his foot touch the earth, or he'll die.

Not that a little death threat can slow him down. Switters simply hops into a wheelchair and rolls off to further footloose adventures, occasionally switching to stilts. For a Robbins hero, to be just a bit high, not earthbound, facilitates enlightenment. He bops from Peru to Seattle, where he's beguiled by the Art Girls of the Pike Place Market and his 16-year-old stepsister, and then off to Syria, where he falls in with a pack of renegade nuns bearing names like Mustang Sally and Domino Thirry. Will Switters see Domino tumble and solve the mystery of the Virgin Mary? Can the nuns convince the Pope to favor birth control--to "zonk the zygotic zillions and mitigate the multitudinous milt" and "wrest free from a woman's shoulders the boa of spermatozoa?" Can the author ever resist a shameless pun or a mutant metaphor?

The tangly plot is almost beside the point. Switters is a colorful undercover agent, and a Robbins novel is really a colorful undercover essay celebrating sex and innocence, drugs and a firm wariness of anything that tries to rewire the mind, and Broadway tunes, especially "Send in the Clowns." Some readers will be intensely offended by Switters's yen for youth and idiosyncratic views on vice. But fans will feel that extremism in the pursuit of serious fun is virtue incarnate.
Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates
is classic Tom Robbins: all smiles, similes, and subversion.
--Tim Appelo

From Publishers 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. Agent, Phoebe Larmore. (May)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Tom Robbins

proves again that he can tell a wicked tale . . . [He] has created a spokesman
for a world order where the enlightened individual once again reigns. At least
individuals who can handle it.”

Kansas City

any Robbins tale, it’s deceptively funny yet dead serious in its confrontation
with Big Issues: the nature of God and Satan; the hypocrisy of organized
religions; the insidious evils of government, big business, and advertising;
liberalism vs. conservatism; the condition of humanity in an inhumane world.” —

fans of Robbins’s nonlinear playfulness, this story of a CIA agent hooked on
sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll offers plenty of abandon and unexpected rewards.”

San Francisco

takes us on his typical rowdy and irreverent ride, surprising us both with the
story he tells and with the way he tells it . . . may be Robbins’s best work to
date.” —
Times Dispatch

is still the Houdini of unchained similes and metaphors.” —
Free Press

. . . Tom Robbins writes operas chock full of mind-altering images and calls
them novels . . . Fans like him for going all-out cosmic, for twisting what
seem like unlikely words into brilliant Mobius strips of humor and beauty.” —

has written a new novel that pops like a dogwood in springtime . . . it will do
everything to delight those who realize they need a jolt from his cosmic jumper
cables every so often.”—

father (in this century) of all nose-thumbers . . . [Robbins] is also the
inspiration for disreputable treaders of the line between thriller and
literature.” —
Los Angeles

balances the comic and the cosmic much as a juggler might balance a kitchen
chair on a spoon. Highly recommended.” —
Library Journal

brews another deranged and delightful concoction about a man who does it all
for God, country, and the love of women.” —

screwball comedy.” —

of little wisdoms,
is the literary equivalent of
whitewater-rafting the rapids of
with the Marx
Brothers in tow.” —
Entertainment Weekly

of the most inventive writers on the planet.”

Morning News

incredibly humorous and completely outlandish romp . . . The high jinks
couldn’t be any wilder.” —

one writes like Robbins . . . When you look closely at his work, there are
virtually no throwaway lines—they seem crafted.” —Tracy Johnson,

[Robbins’s fans have] come to expect—humor, sex, adventure, ferocious rants
about society and religion, characters who swear on the Bible and
, asides on everything from etymology to violence, and a disregard
to anybody else’s definition of good taste . . . His novels lure the
adventurous and warn the timid.” —

picaresque masterpiece. These ‘fierce invalids’ have synthesized in a
page-turner way so many of the grand and burning questions of this time, the
reader will have her energizing orgasms without surcease.”
—Andrei Codrescu

leads the reader on a dizzying charge.”


and sexy, containing a great deal of witty social and political commentary.” —
Publishers Weekly

lot of fun.” —
Kirkus Reviews

evocative . . . has more dramatic reversals than
. . .
Robbins has made a viable art form out of over-the-topness, to say nothing of
cosmic muffinry.”

San Francisco
Examiner Book

bizarre, and just plain funny.”

Rocky Mountain News

his seventh and perhaps most complex novel to date, Robbins shines as
brilliantly as he has in the past . . . Robbins, who satirized hippie communes
a quarter century ago, hasn’t lost a step, offering superb, current social
commentary.” —
New York



A Bantam Book



Bantam hardcover edition published
May 2000

Bantam trade paperback edition /
June 2001

Bantam trade paperback reissue /
May 2003


Published by Bantam Dell

A Division of Random House, Inc.

New York
New York


All rights reserved

Copyright © 2000 by Tom Robbins


Visit our website at


Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 99-051683

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form
or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording,
or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the written
permission of the publisher, except where permitted by law.


Bantam Books and the rooster colophon are registered trademarks of
Random House, Inc.


e-ISBN 0-553-89790-X





Another Roadside Attraction

Even Cowgirls Get the Blues

Still Life with Woodpecker

Jitterbug Perfume

Skinny Legs and All

Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas

Fierce Invalids Home From Hot

Villa Incognito


Fierce Invalids
Home From
Hot Climates


New York


For Rip and Fleet and Capt. Kirk


I want God, I want poetry,
I want danger, I want freedom,
I want goodness, I want sin.

—Aldous Huxley


Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 1

Sometimes naked
Sometimes mad
Now the scholar
Now the fool
Thus they appear on earth:
The free men.

—Hindu verse


October 1997

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


November 1997

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


Central Syria
May 1998

Trekking toward Jebel al Qaz-az in
a late spring rain, the nomads were soaked and nearly giddy. Behind them, at
lower elevations, the grass was already yellowing and withering, fodder not for
flocks but for wildfires; ahead, the mountain passes conceivably could still be
obstructed by snow. Whatever anxieties the band maintained, however, were
washed away by the downpour. In country such as this, hope’s other name was

Even the sheep and goats seemed
merry, lighter of hoof, although individual beasts paused from time to time to
shake rainwater from their coats, vigorously, stiffly, causing them to look
like self-conscious burlesque queens. Their leathery black muzzles, glistening
with rain, were pointed—not so much by their drivers as by a migratory instinct
older than humanity—toward distant pastures.

Switters was one of four men—the
khan, the khan’s eldest son, an experienced pathfinder, and himself—who
traveled on horseback at the head of the procession. The rest were on foot.
They had been on the move, dawn to dusk, for almost a week.

About two miles back, prior to
beginning their gradual ascent, they had passed a large compound, an oasis,
undoubtedly, completely surrounded by a high mud wall. The boughs of orchard
trees rose above the wall, and the scent of orange blossoms boosted to a higher
power the already intoxicating smell of the rain. From inside the compound,
Switters thought he heard the wild sugary shriek of girlish laughter. Several
of the young men must have heard it, too, for they turned their heads to stare
wistfully at the remote estate.

BOOK: Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates
12.58Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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