Two San Francisco Lilies

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a novel for smelly, history-lovin slackers

** This review contains spoilers **

I avoided Tom Robbins’ novels for years particularly because my old boyfriend was such a fanatic about him and even when I was deep into him, we disagreed on most literature. The way he and his pretentious 20-something arty bros talked about Robbins put me off in a big way. Lately, I’ve been getting multiple nudges from friends who know I’ve been researching olfaction so I finally gave in and read Jitterbug Perfume for research.

My original instinct was correct: this is a novel for the all-male tribe I call “toilet philosophers” because most of the philosophy they read was while they were on the pot. Aside from its misogyny, the lamest thing about this novel is the spiritual message clumsily tacked onto the plot and heavily underscored in the last 40 pages.

I must admit that there are some admirable aspects about Jitterbug Perfume. It is well researched and I like the playful attitude towards myth, history, perfume and food. I found the narrative arc (minus the pseudo-spirituality) well crafted and interesting. For these reasons, it is worthwhile if you are curious.

What I cannot stand is the novel’s sloppy, infantile lewdness and its utterly misogynistic treatment of women. Each and every female character is about as deep as raindrop. In many ways, this novel is like a macho version of a Jackie Collins’ novel where the plot gets in the way of all the more important sex scenes and blowjobs.

Don’t get me wrong, I like sex scenes and Jackie Collins. The sex scenes in Jitterbug Perfume, however, feel like watching a really drunk fatso try to get his groove on as if he were James Bond. The detail with which blowjobs are described makes these scenes grotesque literary money shots. In Robbins’ perfumed porn, the women are gagging to be groped by slobs, crusty old lechers, handicapped, satyrs, and so on. It’s truly painful. This book had so much semen on the pages, I felt I needed to wash my hands after each time I picked it up.

And in case you think that sexual subservience can be some sort of “modern, women-choose-to-please-on-their-knees feminism,” it gets better. When the would-be heroine finally gets laid, her attempts to be sexy are mocked by the narrator’s painstaking description of how shamefuly ugly and ill-fitting her clothes and underwear are. Lucky for her, the handsome one-eyed Irishman is a horndog and she’s the only woman in the room. Except for the fat spinster, the female characters are all led by their vaginas despite their professional ambition. And that’s what turns out to be the main joke of the novel: that women have professional ambition at all.

The “lesbian” character never gets the girl she’s lusted after but settles instead for becoming her best pal. Sounds modern and empowering, right? Another female character is gruesomely stung by a bee on her perineum and luckily a creepy Frenchman is present to soothe her sting. Barf.

Other problems are Robbins’ really bad, self-indulgent puns, mixed metaphors and wrongheaded literary elbow nudges that seem designed to show the readers how well read he is since they add nothing to the plot. There are real groaners, for example, “a populace that was puting Descartes before des horse.”

Reading this novel made me so glad I left that Robbins’-lovin dude and his horny toilet philosophizing crew behind. Tom Robbins reminds me of other writers who combine vulgarity and humor (Vonnegut, Rabelais, Chaucer, Boris Vian, Alfred Jarry) but without their soul, intelligence, political engagement and verbal finesse. Read their work instead for hotter sex scenes, finer wit and more sophisticated style.

Eastern Inspiration: gilded lilies light up the Fog City summer

Inspired by the lovely golden flower from Japan, artisanal San Francisco-based perfumer INeKE and the Alembic are both currently serving up the Gilded Lily in the form of a seductive eau to parfum and a decadent cocktail.

The champagne cocktail takes its name from the stunning gold leaf sheen on the surface of the drink, capturing the delicate sweetness of its floral namesake with hints of herbaceous chartreuse, orange blossom water and gin softly transported to your nose and mouth by the gentle effervescence of demi sec.

INeKE translates the Asiatic lily more literally from the gorgeous muse blooming in her front garden into a sexy modern chypre fragrance with a soft whisper of fruit.

Angelinos will be lucky to get the first sniff of Gilded Lily eau de parfum at its Nordstrom launch tomorrow and Saturday (8.27 + 8.28) in Santa Monica.

INeKE’s latest addition to its perfume alphabet – G for Gilded – will be available in late September 2010 online or at the following SF retailers:

Azalea 411 Hayes Street      Nest 2300 Fillmore Street       Gumps 135 Post Street      Carrots 843 Montgomery Street      Circle & Square 344 Presidio Street.

Learn A-F of INeKE’s  perfume ABCs by ordering the gorgeous deluxe sample set at only $25 online. OR try them in person at Fred Segal in LA at 500 Broadway and in NYC at Henri Bendel at 712 5th Ave, Takashimaya at 693 Fifth Avenue and The Plaza Beauty at One West 58th Street.