"Wild Ducks Flying Backward" is a collection of the short writings of Tom Robbins. It spans four decades and includes a 1967 review of an...

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“Wild Ducks Flying Backward: The Short Writings of Tom Robbins”
by Tom Robbins
Bantam, 255 pp., $25

“Wild Ducks Flying Backward” is a collection of the short writings of Tom Robbins. It spans four decades and includes a 1967 review of an amazing new band called the Doors. Robbins describes the group, variously, as “Jean Genet up a totem pole” and “Edgar Allan Poe drowning in his birdbath.”

The book is a sometimes dizzying farrago: poems, country-song lyrics (“my love is wild, hog wild / it ain’t for a sissy or a child”), script treatments, stories, profiles, travel pieces, critiques, reminiscences.

Inevitably, in such a wide-ranging assortment, there are pieces that have not aged well. Robbins’ poetry, for example, is simply not for me; I chiefly admire its brevity. The author’s appreciations, written for Esquire, of such women as violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg (“play for us, you big wild gypsy girl”) and actress Jennifer Jason Leigh (“the Lizard Queen”) verge on the embarrassing.

But Robbins’ exuberance and bravery — he is always, artistically, out on a limb — shine through. There are some delightful essays. “The Day the Earth Spit Warthogs” recounts a trip through Tanzania; Robbins’ wonderment and joie de vivre light up every page; his lyrical astonishment matches the landscape. (He sees, among other things, “yellow-billed storks taller than most Little League second basemen.”)

Like much of the author’s work, the book also has a unique Northwest flavor and poignancy. For longtime Seattle residents, it may evoke a real sadness. Robbins’ essays on the city’s cultural icons read like a roll call of the departed: artist Leo Kenney (died in 2001), kitsch goddess Ruby Montana (moved to California), the Eagles Auditorium (now Kreielsheimer Place).

Maybe, in the end, there is only one Seattle constant. It’s here, too, in “Why Do You Live Where You Live?”: Robbins writes about the rain. “It will rain a fever,” he explains, “and it will rain a rawness.” And in the end, “it will rain a miracle.”

Good. I hope it does.