I first became introduced to Sissy Hankshaw’s trademarked thumbs in Even Cowgirls Get the Blues thanks to Aredella Lamb, an eighty-pound-when-wet, quixotic, occasionally lapsed Quaker who had the God-given task of inspiring inquisitive eighth graders. God bless her.
She loaned me her personal copy of Cowgirls after my particularly vigorous eraser cleaning session one afternoon, and my life changed forever.
Sure, I’d been reading Vonnegut already, but Tom Robbins, not Vonnegut, wrote my first real adult novel. Teachers make reading recommendations all the time, but beginning with the Single Cell Preface of “Cowgirls,” I was hooked. Robbins argues that through reproduction by division “the first amoebae that ever lived is still alive … [perhaps] floating on his/her back in a luxurious pool in Hollywood, California. The first amoeba may be hiding among the cattail roots and peepers in the muddy shallows of Siwash Lake. The first amoeba may recently have dripped down your leg.”
Ha! Who thinks like this except Robbins, who should hold the international title, Master of the Metaphor and Simile. For example, consider this recurring automotive comparison: “The Countess had a smile like the first scratch on a new car. It was immanently regrettable. It was a spoiler. It was a stinging little reminder of the inevitability of deterioration.” Bizarre, memorable images abound.
“The Earth is God’s pinball machine and each quake, tidal wave, flash flood and volcanic eruption is the result of a TILT that occurs when God, cheating, tries to win free games.”― Tom Robbins, *Even Cowgirls Get the Blues*
The novel is about everything and nothing. Femimism, free love, drugs, Indian rituals, animal rights, sexual orientation, gender roles, technology, philosophy, advertising, yams, yams as a lubricant, government interference, business ethics, and religion, certainly religion, are all deeply explored within a novel that begins as the story of a professional hitchhiking model with unusally large thumbs and becomes, ostensibly, the story of saving the last of the whooping cranes after they land on the girls-only Rubber Rose Ranch.
“To live fully, one must be free, but to be free one must give up security. Therefore, to live one must be ready to die. How’s that for a paradox?”― Tom Robbins, *Even Cowgirls Get the Blues*
In addition to Sissy Hankshaw and her hitchhiking-worthy thumbs, which are characters themselves, the novel features a bizarre cast of characters. The Countess, a “male” crossdressing homosexual, runs a feminine hygene product empire. Bonanza Jellybean, a bisexual, self-proclaimed cowgirl, stands a martyr to the end. The Chink, a laughingly mislabeled Japanese internment camp refugee, becomes increasingly associated with the people of the Clockworks, a not-too-disguised metaphor for Western culture’s obsession with linear time. Even the author himself makes regular appearances, both as a character and as a heavy-handed philosopher who occasionally intercedes in this self-aware hippie romp.
“I believe in everything; nothing is sacred. I believe in nothing; everything is sacred. Ha Ha Ho Ho Hee Hee.”― Tom Robbins, *Even Cowgirls Get the Blues*
If you can’t get your parents or grandparents to tell you what the 1960s were like, as if they would cop to all the drugs and the sex, this novel will give you good idea of what you missed.
Yes, Gus Van Sant, Jr. directed a 1994 film of this work. No I haven’t seen it. It would forever ruin the movie in my mind.