EPS Review #218 - Villa Incognito

A tanuki in Shirakawa-go Villa Incognito , by Tom Robbins, No Exit Press 2007(2003), 242pp.

I have a bit of a thing about tanukis. While our family was staying in a cozy yurt in Naoshima in 2004, one of my loafers disappeared, and I attributed it to this mischievous animal. I like imitating their belly-drumming, and no visitor to Japan fails to notice the huge-genitaled statues of perky tanukis outside many a shop.

Idle internet searches for books involving tanukis repeatedly turned up Villa Incognito, but I ignored the hit for many years. The book seemed like it might be too intentionally frivolous, although I peripherally noticed the fame of Even Cowgirls Get the Blues , which I have also not read or watched. When we packed to go to Japan this year, I bought the book to give to Ross and maybe read myself. Ross read it in a day or two and laconically said it was all right. I had to take smaller doses.

Villa Incognito is a cool boys' hangout on a peak in Laos, populated by three hippies left over from Viet Nam. They intersect with the story of Lisa Ko, who is probably the descendant of a mythical union of the god Tanuki and a Japanese woman. Every page is adorned with sex, drugs, college philosophy and familiar nifty factoids like the etymology of "lord". The three male characters are involved, somewhat queasily, in the heroin trade. Lisa performs in a circus with a troupe of tumbling tanukis. The magical chrysanthemum seed in her palate and what may come of it provides what motive force the plot has, and is ultimately a little disappointing, but serves its purpose. I have to say that I pretty much agreed with all the philosophy and the pokes at America -- not enough to want to read more, but still enough to wish I spent more of my waking time really awake.

Here is a taste of the prose:

All across the clearing, the dying sun and the grass were practically the same shade of yellow. Last-minute shoppers crowded the pollen-parlors, and every other flower-head drooped from bee-weight. A breeze with only a calorie or two of warmth left in it slid down the mountainside as if on its way to one final dip in Lake Biwa. Already rubbed red by nights of foreplay, boughs, each leaf alert, awaited the transformative ejaculation of frost. The air was musky with the fate of fallen fruit and collapsing mushrooms, brisk with the historic hustle of harvest, and a flock of crows flapped though it, teasing everybody and everything with their impenetrable koans. In flight, a twitchy curve of ebony luster, they formed the false mustache of the world.

I can't believe I have not been to Chingo-do in Asakusa or Yanagi Mori in Akihabara, both big-deal tanuki shrines according to Robbins. That is still on my to-do list, along with finally making it through the Miyazaki tanuki movie.