This Tom Robbins novel has all the ingredients readers have come to expect from his earlier fiction. Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas comments on life in the United States through characters who are slightly unmoored from it and who seem to be traveling on some other astral plane. The author, in lively lyrical style, comments on both the characters and their worlds with almost nonstop slapstick and verbal humor. What is most unusual about Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas, perhaps, is that Robbins directly addresses the central character, so that the novel can be described as written in second person (with third person used when the central character is “out of earshot”), as here, in an early description of Gwen Mati:
“Here!” you yell, and wave your arms. The phone is attached to the wall at the far end of the bar, and you set out for it, gingerly threading your way through the mob. As soon as you are out of earshot, which is a matter of inches, Ann Louise turns to Phil and says, “That girl is finished in this business.”
Gwen Mati may be finished in the stock brokerage business, but then again, so may everyone else in the Bull & Bear restaurant and lounge, a crowded watering hole in the heart of Seattle’s financial district, where all the brokers have retreated after a nine-hundred-point crash in the stock market. It is the evening of Easter Thursday when the novel begins, and no one knows what will happen when the market reopens on Monday. All the brokers face a painful weekend of waiting.
The weekend will be more painful, and much more complicated, for Gwen. Apparently she has been “unethically churning . . . accounts” and may lose her job as well as her savings. To complicate matters, her boyfriend, Belford—whom she has promised herself to dump by July 4—has lost his pet macaque; he has enlisted Gwen to try to find the animal while he is out of town for the weekend. Q-Jo, a psychic whom Gwen has been counting on to help her move into the very uncertain future, also chooses this particular moment to disappear. Much of the novel’s action thus takes place on the wet weekend streets of Seattle, as Gwen searches for friend or animal.
In her distress, Gwen turns to Larry Diamond, a burned-out stock trader turned spiritual guru who has just returned from Timbuktu, the legendary city in Mali, in western Africa. Diamond lives under a bowling alley and suffers from cancer of the rectum. The novel is, on one level, a frantic chase sequence, as Gwen searches for other characters and for help and rapidly becomes involved with the charismatic Diamond, who may have the answer to her financial questions though he has as yet no solution to his own more serious medical problems. “Every single thing in my life has gone totally haywire,” Gwen confesses to the former trader. Yet by the end of the novel, and with the help of the mysterious Larry Diamond, she is aware that “for some reason, the world around [her] seems alive in a way it never was before.”
A large chunk of the novel, unfortunately, consists of lectures that Diamond (a.k.a. Tom Robbins) gives to Gwen on the limitations of yuppie notions of life and work. “We’re job junkies, and not one of our institutions is prepared or qualified to help us kick the habit.” “All Uncle Larry is saying is that individuals have to accept responsibility for their own bad choices.” The main problem, he explains to Gwen is
the Lie of Progress. The Lie of unlimited expansion. The Lie of “grow-or-perish.” Listen. We built ourselves a fine commercial bonfire, but then instead of basking in its warmth, toasting marshmallows over it, and reading the classics by its light, we became obsessed with making it bigger and hotter. . . . Did we really believe capitalism was exempt from the laws of nature? Did we really confuse endless consumption with endless progress?
Larry Diamond is also in love with her. “Gwendolyn,” he says, “you’re like a handsome, expensive television set that can only bring in two or three channels. I want to hook you up to cable, sweetheart. I want to be your satellite dish.” Much of the novel consists of their heated encounters, in whatever room or vehicle they find empty. In between clutches they search for André and...
(The entire section is 1757 words.)