So here’s a confession: I used to have an all-encompassing crush on Drew Barrymore, so I have done things like listen to the director’s commentary on lots of her movies, including 50 First Dates, which consists of her and director Peter Segal being pretty adorable together as they talk about their (problematic, but that’s another story) movie. It’s times like this, I think, that Drew’s endearing, new-agey, hippie dorkiness is very apparent, and she does things like talk adoringly about every single person involved with the movie, real or fictional, and how they all have wonderful spirits and how love is new every day. She also talks about the book her character Lucy is reading in the movie, Still Life with Woodpecker by Tom Robbins, and the clever detail that Lucy reads the same pages of the book over and over again because of her memory problems. And of course she highly recommends this book to all of us listening to the commentary, because it’s about life and love and beauty and she adores it!
And that’s the true story of why I bought this book– because Drew Barrymore told me to. And no, I don’t think this means I need therapy– Drew Barrymore also has her own cosmetics line, and I haven’t bought any of it even though I impulse-buy makeup far more often than books.
The first thing you need to know about Still Life with Woodpecker is that it was published in 1980, which may account for its half-progressive, half-patriarchal feel. The story is about a real-life European princess, Leigh-Cheri, living in America. She is an idealist, an environmentalist, and I’d call her a feminist, though I don’t recall the word appearing in the book. She supports and has the hots for Ralph Nader, she attends peace and care conventions, and she dreams about forming an international aid community with other royals. She’s also, of course, super fucking hot, with gravity-defying boobies and waist-length red hair. (My avatar for Leigh-Cheri while reading this was Christina Hendricks, even though the princess is only twenty.) She is unashamed and in control of her sexuality. As far as fictional princesses go, Leigh-Cheri is pretty admirable.
But of course this is a story about love, so there’s a guy involved, and unfortunately it’s not Ralph Nader– it’s Bernard, an anarchist and self-proclaimed “outlaw” (which is totally different from “criminal,” you guys) who is wanted for blowing up buildings (which is totally different from terrorism? I guess?) and escaping prison. Our two leads meet on the plane from Seattle to Hawaii, where Leigh-Cheri is attending a save-the-world conference and Bernard is going to blow it up. But it’s okay for us to like him, because he doesn’t kill people– he doesn’t even hurt them! Except when he does, accidentally, and when that happens he feels really bad about it. But it’s not going to stop him from exploding things.
Leigh-Cheri falls for him in like, one day, and her infatuation takes over her life in some rather disturbing ways.
Am I alone in thinking our girl could do better? But maybe I’m just being terribly unromantic. I mean, Bernard also has red hair, so clearly they were meant for each other. But he’s got some good qualities: he’s committed to developing a male form of birth control, because he believes that birth control shouldn’t fall entirely to women (and he also feels bad that he gave the leading expert on male birth control brain damage with one of his explosions). Bernard is into the idea that redheads are kind of magical and more special than non-redheads. In fact, he thinks redheads are descendants of an elite alien race, an idea that Leigh-Cheri kind of runs with, and which the author seems to support. (Points of interest: Tom Robbins is not a redhead. I am, and I am not amused with his idea of Manic Pixie Dream Hairs.)
There are a couple interesting plot twists that made the story a little more bearable, but I might have called it quits if I hadn’t been determined to read 26 books this year. Even the fact that most of the book is set in Seattle or Hawaii, two places I have lived and dearly miss, was not enough to keep me really hooked. Everywhere on the internet rates this book at least four out of five stars, so maybe the problem is me? I’ll admit that, as a very literal person who tends toward non-fiction, the language threw me off. The book is full of metaphors, and while most of them were pretty cool and arty, some of them just felt like Tom Robbins was fucking with me. (At one point, he described a woman’s voice as sounding exactly like a jackhammer on pearls. What?!?) Apparently, despite dragging along my own reusable shopping bags on every grocery trip, I fall short of Drew Barrymore’s level of romantic new-age hippie that would make me understand and appreciate this story. It makes me feel even worse for her character Lucy, reading the same pages of Still Life with Woodpecker over her waffles every morning. But that doesn’t mean that you won’t enjoy it! In fact, two quotes from the book have stuck around in my brain since I finished it a couple weeks ago:
“Any half-awake materialist well knows– that which you hold holds you.”
“There are two kinds of people in this world: those who believe there are two kinds of people in this world, and those who are smart enough to know better.”
Can’t argue with that.