Still Life with Woodpecker

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Still Life with Woodpecker
Cover of Still Life With Woodpecker, echoing the design of the Camel cigarette packet
Author Tom Robbins
Country United States
Language English language
Publisher Bantam Books
Publication date
October 1980
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)
Pages 277 pp
ISBN ISBN 0-553-27093-1 (first edition, paperback)
OCLC 6683767

Still Life With Woodpecker (1980) is the third novel by Tom Robbins,[1] concerning the love affair between an environmentalist princess and an outlaw. The novel encompasses a broad range of topics, from aliens and redheads to consumerism, the building of bombs, romance, royalty, the moon, and a pack of Camel cigarettes. The novel continuously addresses the question of "how to make love stay" and is sometimes referred to as "a post-modern fairy tale".[citation needed]

Plot summary[edit]

The book begins in "the final quarter of the twentieth century", at a year never specified, presumably in the early 1980s. It revolves around a family of deposed European royalty living in a small house in the suburbs outside of Seattle, under the protection of the CIA. They consist of: the father, King Max, a former gambler and poker player whose prosthetic heart valve makes a loud scraping noise when he gets excited; the mother, Queen Tilli, an opera-lover with a strong foreign accent and a fondness for saying "Oh, oh, spaghetti-o"; Gulietta, the non-English-speaking maid and the daughter, Leigh-Cheri, a redheaded vegetarian liberal princess and former cheerleader, having pulled out of classes after being asked to resign from the cheer squad after having a miscarriage while cheering at a football game.

Leigh-Cheri proclaims herself celibate, withdraws from public life and cloisters herself in her room, only to emerge to ask her parents for permission to go to the Care Fest, a liberal convention in Hawaii with scientific and political speakers, including Leigh-Cheri's idol, Ralph Nader. Gulietta is sent to accompany her, and while on the plane, Leigh-Cheri meets Bernard Mickey Wrangle, an outlaw bomber known as the Woodpecker (the common Tom Robbins-fantasy-alter-ego character). Like Leigh-Cheri, he is a redhead, and unlike her, he is on his way to blow up the Care Fest. As it turns out, the Woodpecker has a passion for tequila that inadvertently causes him to bomb a UFO conference instead of his intended target. Gulietta rats him out as the bomber to Leigh-Cheri, who then places him under citizen's arrest. Before she knows it, Leigh-Cheri finds herself at a bar with this crooked-toothed outlaw, drinking tequila and kissing passionately. The two do not agree on their philosophies concerning life: Leigh-Cheri believes it is everyone's job to make the world a better place, Bernard thinks that life is meant to be lived and, on occasion, shaken up.

In between bombings and falling in love, Leigh-Cheri is approached by an unusually beautiful woman who claims she is from the planet of Argon. She informs Leigh-Cheri that redheads are considered evil on her planet and that "Red hair is caused by sugar and lust". This is highly insulting to Leigh-Cheri because she has only recently taken those things out of her life. Leigh-Cheri, Bernard, Gulietta, and a friend flee Lahaina after Bernard frames the Argonian couple for the bombing of the UFO meeting. Out on the sea, an unexplainable light source flies by their boat (the Argonians?) and Gulietta leaves Hawaii having developed a slight cocaine addiction.

While courting the princess in Seattle, Bernard manages to ruin a priceless royal rug, kill Tilli's chihuahua, and get arrested for his past exploits. The princess is overcome with longing for her confined lover; her solution to their separation is to isolate herself in the attic and create the same atmosphere Bernard is forced to live in. In continuous solitude, with nothing but a pack of Camel cigarettes to entertain her, Leigh-Cheri unveils a secret conspiracy involving redheads, ancient pyramids, Thomas Jefferson, the moon, CHOICE, and the planet of Argon. When Bernard hears that people are copying Leigh-Cheri's self-isolation and making it a fad, he sends her a letter telling her that she has caused him to shave and he will never forgive her. Leigh-Cheri leaves her attic, and becomes engaged to a rich Arab named A'ben Fizel who builds a pyramid for her as an engagement present. Gulietta is made queen by the revolutionaries of her country, and Max and Tilli are given ample living expenses, which Max uses to gamble his life away in Reno.

The day before Leigh-Cheri and A'ben's wedding is scheduled, Leigh-Cheri learns that Bernard was shot in an Algerian jail. Hysterical, she flees to the pyramid and, upon entering it, discovers Bernard, waiting for her, strapped with dynamite as usual.

A'ben is informed of this by a guard, and he locks the two into the pyramid's chambers. A'ben tells the public that Leigh-Cheri was captured by terrorists, has the pyramid painted black, and announces that no one will ever enter it again, effectively burying the two alive.

In the meantime, Bernard and Leigh-Cheri, trapped in the pyramid, are living on wedding cake and champagne while they discuss the pyramids, redheads, the moon, and Camel cigarettes. When they are almost completely out of supplies, Leigh-Cheri decides to use the dynamite to make an opening while Bernard sleeps, sacrificing her own life to save him. He tries to stop her, but the dynamite goes off anyway. They awaken in the hospital where they discover that they are both deaf. Max is so shaken by Leigh-Cheri's capture and reappearance that his heart gives out on him. After the funeral, Leigh-Cheri and Bernard move back to Seattle where they spend the rest of their days living in domestic bliss, and retreating to solitude occasionally.


  • Max – the deposed king, former gambler, sports fanatic, enemy of blackberry brambles, and father of Leigh-Cheri.
  • Leigh-Cheri – the former princess, an idealist, nature lover, and Ralph Nader supporter.
  • Queen Tilli – a former Queen, silly and simple by nature, who listens to opera and plays with her dog; her favorite Americanism is "oh-oh, spaghetti-o".
  • Gulietta – a maid who does not speak English, is dependent upon cocaine, and is a secret heir.
  • Bernard – known by the title, "Woodpecker", he has anarchist leanings, is a self-proclaimed outlaw, and employs explosives to destroy buildings; his mantra is "Yum".


  • I sense that the novel of my dreams is in the Remington SL3 - although it writes much faster than I can spell.
  • This baby (the Remington SL3 typewriter) speaks electric Shakespeare at the slightest provocation and will rap out a page and a half if you just look at it hard.
  • There is a similarity between juggling and composing on the typewriter. The trick is, when you spill something, make it look like a part of the act.
  • Humanity has advanced, when it has advanced, not because it has been sober, responsible and cautious, but because it has been playful, rebellious, and immature.
  • Her surname resembled a line from an optometrist's examination chart.
  • Society had a crime problem. It hired cops to attack crime. Now society has a cop problem.
  • Hawaii made the mouth of her soul water.
  • They'd be no threat to me. I have a black belt in Haiku. And a black vest in the cleaners.
  • There are essential and inessential insanities. The latter are solar in character, the former are linked to the moon.
  • Sharks are the criminals of the sea. Dolphins are the outlaws.
  • She lunched on papaya poo poo or mango mu mu or some other fruity foo foo bursting with overripe tropican vowels.
  • There are two kinds of people in this world : those who believe there are two kinds of people in this world and those who are smart enough to know better.
  • He looked at her with that kind of painted-on seriousness that comedians shift into when they get their chance to play Hamlet.
  • The man and woman firmly shook hands. The solution to the overpopulation problem might rest in such handshakes.
  • A better world has gotta start somewhere. Why not with you and me?
  • If you're honest, you sooner or later have to confront your values. Then you're forced to separate what is right from what is merely legal. This puts you metaphysically on the run. America is full of metaphysical outlaws.
  • They snuggled closer, and when they were as close as they could get without being behind one another, they commenced to kiss again.
  • This stuff's so fine Julius Caesar called for it with his dying breath. 'A toot, Brutus,' is what he said.
  • Something has got to hold it together. I'm saying my prayers to Elmer, the Greek god of glue.
  • "I'll follow him to the ends of the earth," she sobbed. Yes, darling. But the earth doesn't have any ends. Columbus fixed that.
  • A rabbi's dog could score pork chops in the streets of Tel Aviv easier than Bernard could acquire tequila in King County Jail.
  • She tried out the chamber pot, although she really had nothing to contribute.
  • Any half-awake materialist well knows - that which you hold holds you.
  • The first time that she spread her legs for him it had been like opening her jaws for the dentist.
  • Funny how we think of romance as always involving two, when the romance of solitude can be ever so much more delicious and intense.
  • I'll never write another novel on an electric typewriter. I'd rather use a sharp stick and a little pile of dogshit.
  • It's never too late to have a happy childhood.
  • Albert Camus wrote that the only serious question is whether to kill yourself or not. Tom Robbins wrote that the only serious question is whether time has a beginning and an end. Camus clearly got up on the wrong side of bed, and Robbins must have forgotten to set the alarm.
  • If you believe in peace, act peacefully; if you believe in love, act lovingly; if you believe every which way, then act every which way, that's perfectly valid— but don't go out trying to sell your beliefs to the system. You end up contradicting what you profess to believe in, and you set a bum example. If you want to change the world, change yourself.
  • Now tequila may be the favoured beverage of outlaws but that doesn't mean it gives them preferential treatment. In fact, tequila probably has betrayed as many outlaws as has the central nervous system and dissatisfied wives. Tequila, scorpion honey, harsh dew of the doglands, essence of Aztec, crema de cacti; tequila, oily and thermal like the sun in solution; tequila, liquid geometry of passion; Tequila, the buzzard god who copulates in midair with the ascending souls of dying virgins; tequila, firebug in the house of good taste; O tequila, savage water of sorcery, what confusion and mischief your sly, rebellious drops do generate!
  • The moon can't help it if the best toys are made of paper. And the best metaphors made of cheese.


The Dan Fogelberg song, "Make Love Stay", was inspired by Still Life with Woodpecker and the lyrics to the La Dispute song, "One", consist of quotes from the novel.[citation needed]

In the movie, 50 First Dates, Drew Barrymore's character is found reading the book each morning during her breakfast, while also making waffle houses at the Hooki Lau cafe.

The cover to the first edition is modeled after a pack of Camel cigarettes.

Release details[edit]


  1. ^ Rush Payton (1995). "And the Two Become One: A Discourse on Transcendance and the Role of the Meta-Narrator in Three Novels by Tom Robbins". Bohemian Ink. Bohemian Ink. Retrieved 15 August 2012.