Review: Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates

Nov 1, 2002
Title: Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates
Author: Tom Robbins

Publisher: Bantam Doubleday Dell Pub


Fierce Invalids is a tale of international intrigue'; a chapter in the life of Switters, a rogue CIA agent confined to the physical and potentially spiritual elevation of a borrowed wheelchair by the curse of a reclusive South American shaman.

Fierce Invalids is a journey towards spiritual enlightenment, chronicling the rediscovery of the third prophecy of Fatima and the struggle make public it's startling revelation.

Fierce Invalids is a cautionary fable, a portrait of a man torn between his growing sensual obsession for a nun ten years his senior and his lecherous desire to deflower his 16 year old stepsister.

Fierce Invalids is all three of these stories, braided together into a spiraling pigtail of humour, revelation and sensuality. Add to that a stolen Matisse nude and a talking parrot whose mantra might well enlighten the next generaton and you have classic Tom Robbins.


One doesn't really read a Tom Robbins novel, rather one becomes mildly drunk with on it. Not only do his tongue twisting turns of phrase and protracted poetic pirouettes make one intellectually wobbly-legged, but his highly-implausible plot twists loosen the necktie of realism so that the underlying message can be revealed through the beer-goggles of an aesopian fable.

The main character, Switters, floats between the opposing desires that drive him. He is a government agent with the notoriously manipulative CIA, yet he works more to neutralize their influence rather than impose it. He has a deep sense of spirituality but eschews any form of prayer or organized religion. He is driven by a lust for innocence but delights in an unconsumated realtionship with a older woman. While these might be considered failings by some, his ability to remain neutrally centered is what allows him to perservere.

This seems to be the main point of the novel; that each of us has a similar conflict within us, and the solution is not to embrace either side but rather try to embrace both. Human beings have a tendency to desire certainty, which causes no end of problems in this world of irreconcilable differences. We fight wars to spread god's message of peace, we put people to death for murder, we go to MacDonalds and order salad.

By pursuing the certainties we hold dear, more often than not we destroy them. Switters' attraction to his stepsister's innocence could ultimately destroy it just as the revelation of Mary's devine prophecy could render the church irrelevant.

Robbins sees both positive and negative as inseperable; a yin-yang seesaw on which we all ride, too many people on one end and the ride's over. This is probably as good an argument as you'll find against prosthelytizing religions of any sort, be they spiritual or secular.

I think he's right, we should all stop taking ourselves so seriously.

As the parrot says: "People of zee wurl, relax".