Tom Robbins is firmly entrenched on my list of favorite authors. After reading Jitterbug Perfume, I will never feel the same way about beets again (obviously the vile purple roots were never intended to be eaten anyway). Even Cowgirls Get the Blues—of course they do.
Tom has been taking it easy for a while. His last novel, Villa Incognito, came out in 2003, and it has been four years since the release of his collection, Wild Ducks Flying Backward.
Trying to review most books by Tom Robbins is something akin to telling an alien from another star system what a hot fudge sundae with whipped cream, chopped nuts and a maraschino cherry tastes like. You can spend hours with rhetoric and get nowhere, but assuming that Zorg from Tau Ceti 3 has taste buds and an opposable thumb, hand him said delectable dessert and a spoon and you will do the job tout de suite (Robbinsesque pun intended).
Fortunately for reviewers, Robbins’ latest novella, B is for Beer: A Children’s Book for Grown-ups; A Grown-up Book for Children, is much easier to describe than his earlier full-length works.
Little Gracie Perkel’s father doesn’t pay much attention to her. He works a lot, and, when he is at home, he watches sports. At nearly six years old Gracie has bonded more with her beer-swilling Uncle Moe. Moe not only loves beer, he is a veritable encyclopedia of information about the amber elixir. And he tells Gracie some fascinating stories about the history of man’s most popular alcoholic beverage.
In fact Moe promises, on one dreary Seattle day, to take Gracie on a special birthday outing: a tour of the Red Hook brewery.
(An aside here—If you are ever in Woodinville, WA, just north of Seattle, take the tour and a designated driver. And while you are at it, you can stop in at the Columbia Crest and Chateau St. Michelle wineries, just up the street. What a place!)
Things never quite work out because Uncle Moe moves to Costa Rica with his winsome podiatrist. But he has not left the book forever.
Enter the beer fairy to take Gracie on a different tour altogether. This is where the narrative bogs down, as Gracie and the reader learn all the intricacies of the manufacture of beer. But Robbins does include a few anecdotes about what too much beer can do to drinkers’ inhibitions.
Before the book ends, there is bound to be some poetic justice for Gracie’s neglectful father and happiness for the youngster and her mom, and, of course, Uncle Moe.
B is for Beer is a pretty simple tale, so don’t expect another Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas or Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates. The author indicates that the little book is intended for grandpas to read to their grandchildren, after all. Still there are snippets of that trademark sardonic humor that no true Robbins fan could be willing to miss.