Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas

By Tom Robbins

21 ratings - 3.75* vote

A paperback original, which describes a bizarre weekend through the eyes of a young broker who has just experienced a stockmarket crash. From the author of EVEN COWGIRLS GET THE BLUES.

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Book details

Paperback, 389 pages
January 5th 2002 by No Exit Press

(first published 1994)

Original Title
Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas
ISBN
184243036X (ISBN13: 9781842430361)
Edition Language
English

Community Reviews

Linda Robinson

Separate from my myriad secret addictions was my very public addiction to Tom Robbins books. When I was diagnosed with cancer in 1996, I called my mother. I said, "I have cancer." She paused briefly and then said, "I know what you need. You need a new Tom Robbins' novel."

I cannot claim conclusively that Tom Robbins' writing can cure cancer, but here I am free since 1997.

That's all I'm saying.

And I got that book signed, too.

Matt

Reading Tom Robbins is like reading Hunter S. Thompson. Almost everyone seems to go through that phase at some point, and then eventually that phase ends.

I read every Tom Robbins book up to this one; I've yet to read his latest two (or three, or however many there are). Each of them is fantastic in its own way, although there are some consistencies in his style that are fantastic throughout his books -- his completely mind-blowing use of language in the service of crazy descriptions, analogies, and similes, and his Crazy Theory, that point of each book that would in a more traditional author be the denouement, but in the Robbins oeuvre is where he unveils whatever crackpot (and compelling, if you're predisposed to such thoughts, as I am) theory he's holding on to at the time.

Of the books I've read, Another Roadside Attraction stands out for its audacity; Jitterbug Perfume for the incredible story and writing (I still remember this line from the intro, something that is nearly unprecedented for yours truly, Mr. Swiss Cheese head: "[They] say a story that begins with a beet will end with the devil; that is a risk we will have to take."

Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas, however, is remarkable for two reasons: the "Tom Robbins' Crazy Theory" of the book is both the broadest and craziest of them all, and his use of the second person is a challenging, compelling and ultimately rewarding technique. Who writes in the second person anymore, and of those who do, how many of them choose such an unlikable character to make "you" identify with? Tom Robbins does, and he does it effortlessly well.

Jonathan

This was my final attempt to enjoy a Tom Robbins book. I failed.

Unfortunately, it was more of the same from Robbins. Ham-fisted philosophizing, lurid sex, and purple prose. I guess if you were a teenager this would seem very literate and high-minded. Sadly, once you have read actual literature, you realize that this is garbage.

Although Tom tries to be esoteric and witty, it just isn't very good. Yeah, we get it, you know big words. Now try using them constructively instead of peppering your novels with hundreds of idiotic similes and analogies.

I think Robbins is trying to write in a humorous style, but frankly the only laugh I got was when I found the original sales receipt tucked into the used copy I bought and realized that someone had paid full hardback price for this turd of a novel.

Gregory Baird

“Disaster’s always best when it’s on a grand scale.”

… and the scale certainly is grand in Tom Robbins’ rollicking riot of a novel. It opens with the beginning of a disastrous three-day weekend for one Gwendolyn Mati, a lovingly unlikable stockbroker whose ambitions are sky high and whose perceptions seem hopelessly shallow. It is the night before Good Friday and there has been a disastrous plunge in the stock market that has the whole economy screaming disaster, and Gwen finds herself facing termination on Monday morning thanks to some shady ethics she exercised in her client’s portfolios that have been brought to light by the crash. Her once-promising boyfriend, Belford, is annoying her to no end after developing an unhealthy dose of Christian guilt that is compelling him to leave his promising real estate career for (gasp!) social work. Gwen desperately needs to find a way to keep her job before Monday morning, but she can’t seem to get a seemingly sleazy former stockbroker named Larry Diamond off her mind. And things only get worse the following day, when Belford’s born-again pet monkey escapes and Gwen’s best friend, a 300 pound psychic named Q-Jo, vanishes. All this happens in the first hundred pages of “Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas,” and the Robbins roller coaster has only just begun. There’s still a curious cancer treatment, a bunch of overly rich and rowdy teenagers, celestial interference, a sex offender, disappearing frogs, a transfixing Van Gogh sketch, aliens, and more to come.

“Half Asleep” is at its riotous best in its first half, when Robbins gives free reign to his limitless imagination, and the result is a philosophical-comedy mind-warp that could give Vonnegut’s masterful “Breakfast of Champions” a run for its money … until the second half of the novel devolves into a talky jumble of rambling philosophical dialogue that does more to annoy the reader than to enlighten him. I like what Robbins is saying underneath it all (that we need to chill out, think about how we define our lives, and focus on what really matters instead of allowing money and ambition steer us off course), but he weakens his argument by muddling it with random references to alien mushroom spores, enemas, et al. His specious asides confound more than anything else, and make you long for the carefree opening salvo that had said so much more without trying nearly as hard. The ending is also truly disappointing because it is all too sudden and leaves you with too many questions.

This was my first Robbins novel, and despite its flaws I did enjoy it. I am particularly impressed by his unique descriptive style: instead of telling us that someone has the chills he writes that “ice cubes clink against the swizzle stick of your spine.” Nice touch, Mr. Robbins. I look forward to exploring the rest of his canon in the future. I just hope that there’s more madcap glee than abstruse philosophy.

Grade: B-

Julia

In case you didn't pick up on it, my "Full Disclosure" shelf is reserved for those books I find embarrassing to post about - for one reason or another. However, if I'm going to make the jump to share what I've read over the past years, I figure I may as well be honest.

This was actually my favorite of the "Tom Robbins" phase. Now, I hate him. It's always the same fucking story with this guy: down-and-out lady meets mystery man who imparts wisdom, solves problems, and then does her - in very explicit love scenes. Detailed sex and mystical universe shit boggles the mind when you're fifteen - but at this point? Come on; let's get serious.

Jessica Brown

[Originally appeared on New Reads and Old Standbys in May 2009:]

I initially bought this book at the urging of a friend of mine who swore up and down that it was the best book he’d read “in forever, it’s sick, seriously, go out and read this now.” Before I go any further, let me point out that he uses the word “sick” as a synonym for “awesome,“ and the word pops up in conversation with him rather frequently. For a moment I honestly believed the book was disgusting, depraved or just plain rude, before I realized what he actually meant.

As it turns out, the first time I attempted to read this novel my initial fears weren’t too far off. While not actually rendering me physically nauseous, there was something about this book that got on my nerves so much that, after fifty pages, I put it down and forgot about it for a few years. It could have been any number of things, really.

It could have been the fact that the book is narrated in second person perspective, like a Choose Your Own Adventure, which for some people is so highly distracting and dizzying that they avoid the particular format like the plague. You will really like this book if you are a narcissist, or like to fantasize about being someone else. In fact, if this is the case, you can feel yourself looking the book up on Amazon and purchasing it this very moment, paying for it with your own credit card. See? See how irritating that could become?

It could have been that the book deals in mid-90s stock exchange drama, a subject I could honestly care less about. I have somewhat of a distaste for hardcore white-collar dealings and this book is full of characters and terminology that, while I didn’t have difficulty understanding, I certainly wasn’t all that fascinated by.

It could also be the fact that the main character is a woman I would consider to be the perfect photo negative of myself. She’s career-driven, obsessed to be more accurate, concerned only with money and the stock index and the current going price of Fortune 500 shares. She’s a cultureless bitch in a Porche she hasn’t paid off yet, in clothes she hasn’t yet reimbursed her credit card for, living in an apartment she deems too small and low class for her that she’s desperate to move out of, banking her entire existence on getting into a place with a doorman and and a few hundred extra yards of space inside.

Oh, she’s just a treat, this prudish, squeaky voiced woman with her older, too sincere, rich-as-hell-but-unconcerned-with-money Christian boyfriend that she keeps around for no reason at all. Did I mention the boyfriend lives with Andre, a born-again macaque that was once one of the boldest jewel thieves in France? No?

I spent fifty pages inside the head of this woman, thanks to Robbins’ choice of narrative, and the whole time I was screaming to get out. She hates sex, everything is gross to the point where she blushes at the drop of a hat, she hates her Filipina background and her hippie parents, she hates not having money and the world laid at her feet and she hates the common people of Seattle. In addition to an overly nice but boring boyfriend and his pet monkey, her best friend is a 300 pound tarot reader named Q-Jo, and she hates being seen with Q-Jo in public because, oh yeah, the world hates fat people, especially fat people in purple turbans and other garish attire, so she keeps her best friend swept up under the proverbial rug in order to maintain her professional veneer.

I was rather amazed I got to page fifty, seeing as the whole time I just wanted to slap her. Or myself, seeing as I was supposed to be her this entire time. I felt pretty disgusted as I put it back on my shelf, relieved to find something a bit more enjoyable to spend my time on. And there that book sat, for two more years at least, until I picked it up again a few weeks ago.

I blame my recently-acquired interest in late twentieth and early twenty-first century humor fiction for sending me back to Half Asleep. Having read Barry and Coupland and Nielan over the last six months to a year, my attention turned towards Robbins again, a writer that numerous people have gushed to me over. Rather than buying another one of his books, or trying to find copies in the library (I love libraries but get a bit antsy over their rigid time restraints, due to my short attention span and habit of flitting back and forth between books) I decided to pick up and read Half Asleep. The whole way through. No more putting it off and leaving it shelved, telling myself I’d get around to actually completing it at a later date. Nope. Going to read it now.

And read it I did. I have to say that the second time is a charm for this one. It was so much easier this time around.

I found myself again rolling my eyes and feeling disgusted by Gwendolyn Mati and her obsession with emerging from the long Easter weekend triumphant over all of Wall Street and earning millions during an impending crash. That’s what this book is about at its core, a market on the brink of annihilation and a young, incompetent stock broker furiously trying to cover her possibly illegal (and most definitely amoral) investment strategies from both boss and client.

It’s also about philosophy, capitalism, African tribalism, sex, disease, space aliens, telepathy, hallucinogens and the arcane. It could also, if you stretch your imagination a tiny bit, be about love.

I started off wanting to beat the holy hell out of Gwen, just as I did last time, but pushing through this novel, page by page, I was able to witness her transformation from a completely self-obsessed, arrogant bitch to a woman who might have her heart in the right place even if she’s a bit on the narcissistic side. It was an amazing albeit snail-paced transformation, made all the better and worth waiting for by numerous encounters along the way that leave her humiliated and knocked down more than a few pegs. There are a few places where I had to hold my giggles in.

Is it possible to experience Schadenfreude against yourself? In this instance, I think so. And at the end, after I was flushed of all available derision, I actually felt a bit good for her.

Molly Billygoat

Tom Robbins’ Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas is certainly unique; first, because it is written both in the present tense and in second person. This puts the reader squarely in the main character’s shoes and in the moment. It is also unique because of the unexpectedly radical theories it presents.

The main character is Gwen Mati, a young broker with high ambitions living in Seattle, currently experiencing anguish due to the stock market crash. Gwen is persnickety, fastidious, up-tight and eternally embarrassed. Of Philippine heritage, she is even embarrassed that she stands out due to her skin colour. She wants desperately to step up onto a pedestal in this material world, and it seems she will do almost anything to gain monetary success and recognition as one of the “elite”. The following excerpt nicely demonstrates Gwen’s philosophy (or perhaps lack thereof) and the impact of reading a book in second person:

You read somewhere that in Botswana, the world “pula” means both “money” and “hello.” You like that arrangement. Whenever you meet someone, you say, “Money,” and they say, “Money,” back. What a happy greeting. How honest, and to the point.

If you think this sounds boring, you’d be wrong. This book covers a single weekend, yet includes the following: A temporary boyfriend who is altogether just too good and believes deeply in following the path laid out by God. A best friend who is unabashedly obese, reads tarot cards for people, and watches clients’ travel slideshows as a side gig (because who really enjoys watching a relative’s slideshow and hearing every tedious detail?). A monkey who in an ex-jewel thief and perhaps a born-again Christian, converted by Gwen’s boyfriend. Larry Diamond, a genius in the stock market but deeply jaded due to the spiritual void that is America. This last character is both strangely repellent and attractive to Gwen.

As the book progresses, it becomes steadily more bizarre and fantastical. The narrative, unusual though it is in second person, has that lyrical, poetic and beautifully satirical undertone unique to Tom Robbins. To understand the book more fully, one needs to be at least semi-acquainted with Terrance McKenna’s outlandish theories surrounding the influence of psylocibin (the active ingredient in magic mushrooms) on the evolution of the human race. In real life, Tom Robbins and Terrane McKenna were friends.

Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas combines the mundane with mythology and conspiracy. Gwen’s personal, crazy journey of self-discovery culminates in an outcome no reader could possibly predict. If you’re interested in going on a humorous, kooky, fast-paced and rather sexy journey into the truly bizarre, I recommend you find this book on a shelf near you.

Ben Loory

There is an electrical problem in the women's room. It is as black as outer space in there, and the light switch flips up and down uselessly, like the lips of the President.

Nick Iuppa

There has always been a little debate about the best "person" to use when writing a novel. Some authors swear by the first person (I) some by the third person (she/he). Tom Robbins sidesteps the whole issue but using the second person (you). And it isn't the universal "you" you find in this sentence or in HOW TO manuals (first you grab each end of the shoelaces.) This YOU is someone else entirely. Fortunately, you find out soon enough that the YOU Robbins is talking to in his novel, is a very pretty, twenty-nine-year-old stock broker from Settle, who has a hell of a libido and some extremely strange friends. She's of Filipino/Welsh descent and has the kind of breathy voice that prevents anyone from taking her seriously. ("If a box of Hostess Twinkies could talk, they'd have your voice.")

So, YOU, Gwendolyn Mattie, on the Easter Weekend following the worst day of your life, have lured many of your clients into some very bad investments just before the terrible market crash. That nice, big-money career you planned for yourself, which already includes a new Porsche, lots of expensive clothes, and a pending lease on an exclusive apartment, is in danger of slipping away. So too is your relationship with your handsome though boringly Lutheran boyfriend. He is obsessed with Andre, a pet monkey he has saved from execution in France where the monkey has been arrested for grand theft. After all, a master theft trained and used Andre to steal expensive jewelry. Yikes!

In the middle of this Easter Weekend disaster, you Gwendolyn run into Larry Diamond, an ex-stockbroker who has left the biz to find "The Truth" in Timbuktu. He's trying hard to seduce you, and when he finally does, you experience an orgasm that the author describes almost as uniquely and spectacularly as he does the Seattle rain.

Can you leverage your good looks, your growing relationship with Diamond, the talents of Andre, a strange deck of tarot cards, and even the mysteries of Timbuktu to save your career? That's a great big maybe, Gwen.

Bottom line: this essay on spirituality, the stock market, and the weather in the Pacific Northwest is damn funny, full of wisdom and metaphors that are as fast moving and entertaining as a series of exceptional card tricks. Gwendolyn is enticing and intriguing, Andre is a kick, Diamond, though (when he isn't putting it to Gwen) can be quite boring as he drones on and on about the Dog Star, interstellar intelligence, the BOZO, and Timbuktu. Four Stars, in spite of its brilliance, for all those pages of over-ripe philosophy

jeremy

simply horrendous.

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