"It has been reported that Tanuki fell from the sky using his
scrotum as a parachute." Are there any other authors with the
chutzpah to begin a novel in this manner? Are we in the hands of
one of the most inventive and annoying talents writing today? Is it
possible to fulfill the audacious promise of such a first sentence?
The answers to these questions, I believe, are no, yes, and "Define
Let me begin by copping to the charge of being an inveterate
Robbins fan. First I named a car, and then a daughter Amanda, after
the heroine of Robbins's 1971 novel, ANOTHER ROADSIDE ATTRACTION.
And I've jumped on all of his other wild roller coaster rides,
always amused and impressed, but pausing occasionally to wonder
whether there's a point. Or rather, which of the many points about
spirit, sex and government is meant to be the theme.
VILLA INCOGNITO is no exception. It concerns the ancestry of an
Asian circus performer named Lisa Ko (hint: the well endowed Tanuki
is involved) and the fates of three American MIA's whose secret
palace across a misty gorge in the Laos village of Fan Nan Nan
gives the novel its name. The Smarty Pants gang, as Mars Albert
Stubblefield, Dickie Goldwire and Dern Foley were known in Vietnam,
was shot down over Laos in 1973. When they escaped the POW camp,
they made their way to the highlands. They liked it so much that
they never got around to leaving. The main narrative concerns
Foley's capture by the police, and Stubblefield and Goldwire's
reaction to it. It seems the three MIA's had been selling raw opium
to furnish their palace and feed their concubines, and now Foley
has had the bad grace to be arrested with drugs at the
Foley's capture in Guam brings Lisa Ko back to Asia from the U.S.
to visit her sweetie, Goldwire. It also conjoins Colonel Patt
Thomas and a very proper CIA agent, Mayflower Cabot, to try to find
the other two MIA's. Upon learning that Mayflower Cabot had three
gallstones show up on an ultrasound, Colonel Thomas, who "was
suspicious of the gastronomical fortitude of certain white men when
confronted with the kind of eats that really counted," tells Cabot,
"Three stones is all? Hell, long as one of 'em ain't Keith
Richards, you'll be fine."
Made you laugh? Buy the book. If not, the disjointed shenanigans of
Mars Stubblefield and his gang may inspire a record speed in
trajectory of book to wall. Certainly you'll be no match for the
high wire that is the only access to the Villa Incognito across the
mysterious Fan Nan gorge and the discourse that awaits you there.
This novel is a dizzying sandwich of characterization,
philosophizing and digression. If you can't stomach a
five-hundred-word paean to the wonders of mayonnaise, you won't
even notice the bologna nestled underneath. If you're up for it,
then praise the Animal Ancestors and pass the biscuits. I for one
am still smacking my lips.
Reviewed by Eileen Zimmerman-Nicol on January 24, 2011