Wild Ducks Flying Backward

Author: Tom Robbins

Type: Fiction, non-fiction, short stories, essays

Published: 2005

I read it: October 2011

wild ducks

It’s hard to know what you’re enjoying most when reading Tom Robbins–the playful puns, the intuitive asides, the modern mythology, the vivid metaphors. Usually you’re chuckling to yourself too much to quite pin it down. This is a lively collection of short works ranging from fiction to critique to memoir to poetry. The best selections are towards the front, with travelogues like “The Day the Earth Spit Warthogs” or the superb “Canyon of the Vaginas.” Other gems are sprinkled throughout, as when Robbins writes two-page illuminations on redheads, celebrities, the Sixties, or writing itself. Some pieces are about people or art I’d never heard of, and much of the poetry doesn’t stick, but it’s best not to pass a page in case you miss something grand.

Robbins is superb at plunging into and through humanity, writing as well as anyone can about “those forces that our ancestors knew intimately yet seldom named.” The piece about literary giant Joseph Campbell alone is worth the energy of snagging the book: Robbins seems next in line to take up Campbell’s mantle as head of where mythology can most fruitfully go and grow. The book is a whirlwind of language and levity, and because of its power I looked down into a splat of ketchup on my plate one afternoon and felt something otherwordly tingle in that redness. That’s thanks to Tom Robbins and his notice of all things great and small.

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