I can safely say I'd given the sex life of badgers nary a thought until I read the first sentence of Tom Robbins' latest wacky whirlwind of a novel, Villa Incognito. Leave it to Robbins to begin his eighth book with a story about a mythical Japanese shape-shifting, sake-slurping animal with an incredibly strong sex drive, a scrotal sac large enough to serve as a parachute(!), and a penchant for music and mischief. Thankfully, a detailed description of the animal's nether regions segues into a funny, loop-de-loop story in which the Tanuki (is he a dog? a raccoon? a man?) has many adventures, seduces a winsome farm girl and leaves behind a legacy of lusty, fun-loving offspring.
The story then shifts from the ancient times of the Tanuki to the present day, wherein we learn a mysterious priest/drug-smuggler has been arrested. Said smuggler is actually one of three philosophical-discussion-loving MIAs who decided to remain in Vietnam after the war. The trio lives in Laos, a village populated by accomplished high-wire walkers, among many eccentric sorts. The beautiful Lisa, who grew up in Laos and has been romantically involved with two of the three men, returns to the village when she hears of the arrest, and we are treated to her interesting history she is a descendant of the first Tanuki and has of late been traveling with a circus (she trains tumbling tanukis). Other highlights in this frenetic novel include a dramatic ode to mayonnaise, amusing portraits of the priests' sisters, and the history behind Laos' population. Robbins' fans will not be disappointed by this latest book; it contains all his trademarks the friendly tone, the careering plot lines, the impressively strange characters sprung fresh and vivid from his brain. Those who aren't fond of Robbins would do well to read something else. If the author's other works confounded or irritated you, this one will, too.
Linda Castellitto writes and reads compulsively in Rhode Island, where there are no tanukis, as far as she can tell.