Book Review: Jitterbug Perfume

Ratings for reviews will appear above the fold, while the review itself will appear below the fold to avoid spoilers for anyone that wants to go into it with a blank slate.

Jean-Paul’s rating: 3/5 stars

Do you want to live forever?  I do.  And so, I suspect, does Tom Robbins.  “Jitterbug Perfume” dives into immortality head first.  Not only is it possible to live forever, all it takes is meditation, lots of sex, good food, a nice sauna, and a will to live.  The only thing that prevents us from achieving this goal is our obsession with death.  Death is a bad habit, a biting of the fingernails, a cracking of the knuckles.  All we need to do is break the habit.

The story starts by introducing characters in four different locations and two different times.  Converging story lines can be a powerful took in a writers chest, but in this case, it distracts immensely from the flow of the book.  My guess is that it doesn’t work in this case because of the vast chronological difference between the main story line and the other three.  When you are trying to tie characters together when they span millenia, you’re probably better off just going in chronological order.

The main story line follows Alobar and Kudra as they separately escape their preordained deaths and then search for immortality together.  This part of the story is pretty strong and very interesting and is the reason why I gave the book three stars instead of two.  It follows Alobar and Kudra from 8th century Europe, through Eurasia, into India, and back to 17th centrury Europe where Alobar and Kudra become separated.

The other three story lines take place around 1984 (when the book was published) in three different locations, Paris, New Orleans, and Seattle.  The characters in each location have a straight line relationship that ties the three locations together and they are all separately looking for the next great perfume.  Each of these separate stories seem to be here for the sole purpose of introducing a series of ultra-eccentric characters.  Man who wears a whale mask?  Check.  Genius waitress in a genius waitress club?  Check.  Stereotypical New Orleans madame complete with stereotypical black assistant?  Check.  None of it really worked for me.

Another thing that annoyed me about this book is the extreme overuse of really bad similes and metaphors.  I swear that at some points in the book, Tom Robbins was simply seeing how many similes he could use in a paragraph regardless of the sense they made.  Some people my find this clever, but I found it tired.

It’s hard for me to actually recommend this book and the three stars is a really soft three stars.  I do believe there is enough here for people who find the idea of immortality fascinating.  The path to immortality in this book may seem far fetched, but it makes for some OK reading.  And, let’s face it, what path to immortality doesn’t seem far fetched?

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