Still Life with Woodpecker

By Tom Robbins

76 ratings - 4.02* vote

Still Life with Woodpecker is a sort of a love story that takes place inside a pack of Camel cigarettes. It reveals the purpose of the moon, explains the difference between criminals and outlaws, examines the conflict between social activism and romantic individualism, and paints a portrait of contemporary society that includes powerful Arabs, exiled royalty, and pregnant Still Life with Woodpecker is a sort of a love story that takes place inside a pack of Camel cigarettes. It reveals the

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Book details

Paperback, 288 pages
April 9th 2001 by No Exit Press

(first published October 1980)

Original Title
Still Life with Woodpecker
184243022X (ISBN13: 9781842430224)
Edition Language

Community Reviews

Mario the lone bookwolf

A strange love affair of liberal and anarchistic lead protagonists, reflecting everything out of the Punch and Judy show called politics and it´s strange and illogical ideological foundations.

The woodpecker is such a badass antihero, and his pairing with the redhead hippie girl leads to loads of great plot options Robbins uses to make fun of everything and adds an extra load of filth, sex, and wordplays to the mix to make it even grittier. His language, comparable with some rare ingenious novelists such as Simmons, Irving, etc., makes it difficult to choose if one wants to enjoy the flow of letters or the underlying themes Robbins throws at the reader all the time, because altogether characterization, introspections, and weird world views of the protagonist and the universe around them are astonishing.

I know that I know nothing and so many of the political and some economic innuendos won´t find their target in my mind, because I´ve stopped dealing with the lunacy and stupidity of both fringe sciences a while ago, but readers who are big in history will maybe find many real life inspirations. Although that´s just an assumption, it´s also possible that most of it is purely fictional, but I deem Robbins too clever to not use the option of owning this dysfunctional system. Not to forget the symbolism, individualism, how society deals with progressive tendencies, and how stupid people become by following a mixture of primate and wolf pack instincts.

That´s one of these novels that could get reduced in quality by a bad translation, because some of the puns might get lost, but the German edition is splendid and I´ve read some of the best picks of the English, even better edition some time ago, where Robbin's ingenuity in playing with words is shown in his perfectionistic work attitude. The man might be a stoner, but hell, if some of the greatest writing of all times come out of widening the horizon and the writer doesn´t go completely bonkers, more of the creative heads should try it. It´s not as if I would also suggest it if they would all get seriously mentally ill after a few works, just to be able to enjoy their novels, because people told me that would be antisocial, egoistic, and sociopathic.

Tropes show how literature is conceptualized and created and which mixture of elements makes works and genres unique:


I first read this book in 1981 or thereabouts when I was married to my first husband. I had three children and felt completely trapped in a dangerously toxic, dead-end relationship that I saw no way out of.

Still Life with Woodpecker, more than anything else, is about CHOICE. About using it, about the freedom it offers, and about being willing to accept the consequences for exerting it. Sometimes I would be reading and have to close the book up suddenly because I couldn't handle the implications in my own life. I desperately needed to make changes that I didn't know how to make, and I didn't see any way out of my life--I really felt I was living in hell. But I would pick the book back up, following the adventures of Princess Leigh-Cherie and the outlaw Bernard Mickey Wrangle as they figure out a way to make love stay. And I swear that in reading that book, I could pick myself up, dust myself off, and start over again. Ultimately, reading Still Life with Woodpecker catalyzed me and helped me to find the strength to leave that relationship and save myself and my children. Who could ask anything more of literature than that it save your life? Or at least inspire you to choose to save it?


Let me first tell you that I dislike modern jazz. You know the type: the free-form kind that only musicians can appreciate. I dislike it because it abandons all the structural qualities that I find appealing about old-fashioned jazz and is all about technical skill. What does this have to do with this book? The comparison came to me early on in reading this book which I begrudgingly forced myself to finish: I liken modern jazz to watching a performer masturbate musically on stage, getting off on playing his crazy stuff and proving he's really talented, but ultimately seeming to be having more fun than his audience. Reading Still Life with Woodpecker felt kind of like watching Tom Robbins masturbate. And with the narrative flowing regularly into explicit and colorful descriptions of sexual acts, that feeling was felt in more ways than normally felt about jazz musicians.

The book flows in a somewhat stream-of-consciousness sort of way, with Robbins sometimes interrupting the narrative to bitch about his new-fangled typewriter. That got old for me very quickly, but apparently not for Robbins. All the while I really felt like he was having a grand old time writing this. That's great, that the artist is enjoying his work. Let's hope that all artists get to enjoy their work. But most artists can enjoy their work without me wanting to punch them in the face because of their smugness. Ultimately, I guess that's what bothered me the most about this novel. The smugness. Having never read anything else by him, including his most famous novel, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, I could be way off the mark here, but it really seemed to me like after the extensive acclaim from Cowgirls, he was using this novel to test the waters as to how much he could fuck around in a book and have critics still eat out of his hand. Either that or he was trying too hard to write something that would be as well-received as Cowgirls. Not sure.

In any case, I know there are some people who absolutely loved this book. I was no one of them. I really wanted to enjoy it. It sounded great. There were a lot of interesting and colorful uses of the English language in the book, and interesting plot devices, but ultimately it left me cold. Ice cold.


Reading this book is like being invited over to someone's house for dinner, and finding that they're serving you a buffet of artisanal maraschino cherries they've made. At first you're like, "Oh, how whimsical!" Then you're like "Oh, and you flavored this one with cardamom! How clever of you." And then you're like "Oh, another one? I really shouldn't..." and as your host just keeps piling on artisanal maraschino cherries they crafted from hand telling you how each one corresponds to an orgasm by a famous historical figure, you're like "No dude seriously, this is getting fucking irritating."

That was this book for me. No denying Robbins has a way with words, but the way is over-engineered, contrived, and extremely irritating.

Also, the way he writes about female genitalia grosses me out. It reminds me of how an 14yo honors student virginal boy would talk about genitals. Impeccably worded, very clever, and sort of clueless and icky. I loves me some vulva, but am not interested in "folds of saltmeat and peach... with a seaweed trigger."


Who knows how to make love stay?
1. Tell love you are going to the Junior's Deli on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn to pick up a cheesecake, and if love stays, it can have half. It will stay.
2. Tell love you want a memento of it and obtain a lock of its hair. Burn the hair in a dime-store incense burner with yin/yang symbols on three sides. Face southwest. Talk fast over the burning hair in a convincingly exotic language. Remove the ashes of the burnt hair and use them to paint a mustache on your face. Find love. Tell it you are someone new. It will stay.
3. Wake love up in the middle of the night. Tell it the world is on fire. Dash to the bedroom window and pee out of it. Casually return to bed and assure love that everything is going to be all right. Fall asleep. Love will be there in the morning.


I learned that if you have red hair you can write a crappy book and people will love it. I could have written this book in college.

The jokes were forced, the premise was too ridiculous to take seriously, and the payoff was weak, weak, weak. It was little more than a sophmoric creative writing assignment taken, like, way too far.

Plus if you can't write female characters to be anything more then complex sexual fantasies you should just not even try. I got the sense that the lengthy passages discussing the main characters "flower" were written johnson-in-hand. In fact 'mastubatory' would be a good word to describe this crap both literary and otherwise.

Leo Jacobowitz

As my lack of stars indicate, this book is ok. However, the Best thing about the book is the following quote - one of the most influential in my life:

"How can one person be more real than any other? Well, some people do hide and others seek. Maybe those who are in hiding--escaping encounters, avoiding surprises, protecting their property, ignoring their fantasies, restricting their feelings, sitting out the Pan pipe hootchy-kootch of experience--maybe those people, people who won't talk to rednecks, or if they're rednecks won't talk to intellectuals, people who're afraid to get their shoes muddy or their noses wet, afraid to eat what they crave, afraid to drink Mexican water, afraid to bet a long shot to win, afraid to hitchhike, jaywalk, honky-tonk, cogitate, osculate, levitate, rock it, bop it, sock it, or bark at the moon, maybe such people are simply inauthentic, and maybe the jackleg humanist who says differently is due to have his tongue fried on the hot slabs of Liar's Hell. Some folks hide, and some folks seek, and seeking, when it's mindless, neurotic, desperate, or pusillanimous can be a form of hiding. But there are folks who want to know and aren't afraid to look and won't turn tail should they find it--and if they never do, they'll have a good time anyway because nothing, neither the terrible truth not the absence of it, is going to cheat them out of one honest breath of earth's sweet gas."


"The most important thing is love," said Leigh-Cheri. "I know that now. There's no point in saving the world if it means losing the moon."
Leigh-Cheri sent that message to Bernard through his attorney. The message continued, "I'm not quite 20, but, thanks to you, I've learned something that many women these days never learn: Prince Charming really is a toad. And the Beautiful Princess has halitosis. The bottom line is that (a) people are never perfect, but love can be, (b) that is the one and only way that the mediocre and the vile can be transformed, and (c) doing that makes it that. Loving makes love. Loving makes itself. We waste time looking for the perfect lover instead of creating the perfect love. Wouldn't that be the way to make love stay?"
The next day, Bernard's attorney delivered to her this reply:

Love is the ultimate outlaw. It just won't adhere to any rules. The most any of us can do is to sign on as its accomplice. Instead of vowing to honor and obey, maybe we should swear to aid and abet. That would mean that security is out of the question. The words "make" and "stay" become inappropriate. My love for you has no strings attached. I love you for free.

Leigh-Cheri went out in the blackberries and wept. "I'll follow him to the ends of the earth," she sobbed.
Yes, darling. But the earth doesn't have any ends. Columbus fixed that.

-Tom Robbins


My favorite book of all time. I used a quote from this book in my wedding vows. It is funny, silly, and romantic.


I remember over the years, I would come across Still Life with Woodpecker every now and then in bookshops and book bazaars. Each time, I would take it in my hands, read the backcover and put it back on the shelf. I don't know why, although it seemed interesting to me, something always stopped me from buying it. Of course I was aware of all the praise about it but that is never enough for me to want to read a book.

I think I get why it became such a big success all over the world. Its romantic and at the same time cynical aura can be appealing to people of both sexes. But let's face it people. It's not a masterpiece. While it's full of cheesy themes and everyday philosophy, it lacks the ingredients that make a novel timelessly brilliant. Now, I'm not saying it's trash. On the contrary, I found it good with moments of awesomeness. And that's it. In fact, I think Jitterbug Perfume is better on many levels. Truth is though, had I read it when I was younger, I probably would have liked it more.

The humor is nice, although after a while it feels a bit forced. Storywise, it lost me from time to time probably due to all the abstract blabbering. I think it's clear that finally it left me with a feeling of... meeehh.