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Vail books: Tom Robbins’ returns with tepid beer tales

Stephen Bedford
Vail, CO Colorado

VAIL, Colorado ” Tom Robbins has written a new novel, but hold your horses and cool your jets because it’s not what longtime loyalists would expect.

“B is for Beer” is a whimsical novella charmingly billed as ‘a children’s book for grown-ups; a grown-up book for children.’ It’s nothing like the maverick, maniacal Robbins whose bizarre, psychedelic catalog includes cult hits such as “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues,” “Jitterbug Perfume,” “Still Life with Woodpecker,” and his best (my own humble opinion), “Another Roadside Attraction.”

This is Robbins’ first book in six years, save for a collection of essays in 2006 that were astonishingly weird even by Robbins’ standard, and therefore a celebration is somewhat justified. Alas, the celebration is short-lived.



The best thing “B is for Beer” has going for it is that it is about beer “from grain to growler to gullet. It is a thorough, accurate, and sometimes interesting history that’s enthusiastically relayed to a precocious little girl named Gracie Perkel by a sprite calling herself the Beer Fairy.

Gracie encounters the fairy during a somewhat transcendental, out-of-mind experience induced by chugging a beer after her birthday party is canceled. From here Robbins threatens to turn into the gonzo writer we all know and love, but instead he idles while tracing the history of beer back to arid plains of ancient Egypt.

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At times Robbins’ seems more interested in relaying a rote history than spinning a story. The writing, in fact, is incredibly juvenile.

There are a few impressive asides and plenty of quotable beer facts and maxims, but they serve more of a reminder of what fun Robbins was at the height of his powers.

Although a pat on the back is warranted for the McSweeney’s art and design folks, who could have a true hit on their hands should any of the illustrations be issued as full-size prints.



You could almost, in a conspiracy theorist way, conclude that Robbins was pressed to submit something for his fledgling publisher in a desperate attempt to boost the bottom line.

“B is for Beer” has its fun moments, but ultimately yields a D for disappointment. And that truly did hurt to write.

Stephen Bedford works at The Bookworm, initially taking the job for access to discounted copies of Robbins’ work.


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