Still Life with Woodpecker
|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback)|
|ISBN||0-553-27093-1 (first edition, paperback)|
Still Life With Woodpecker (1980) is the third novel by Tom Robbins, 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".
Princess Leigh-Cheri Furstenberg-Barcalona lives with her exiled royal parents King Max and Queen Tilli and their last loyal servant Gulietta in a converted farmhouse in Seattle. While a modern American high school student in most respects, Leigh-Cheri has an existentialist view of the cultural symbolism of her title of "princess" and wishes to use it for the good of mankind. To this end, she involves herself in many liberal and ecopolitical causes, including a liberal symposium called CareFest in Hawaii, where many progressive minds gather to present their ideas for improving the world. However, there is so much unnecessary infighting that Leigh-Cheri quickly becomes disenchanted. Leigh-Cheri is further demoralized by a beautiful blonde woman claiming to be an alien from the planet Argon, who denounces Leigh-Cheri for her red hair, stating red hair is a sign that Leigh-Cheri is descended from mutant, renegade Argonians.
In the middle of all this, Leigh-Cheri encounters outlaw bomber and fellow redhead Bernard Mickey Wrangle, known as the Woodpecker, who plans to blow up the CareFest. Leigh-Cheri places Bernard under citizens arrest, only to be drawn in by his outlaw philosophy, which teaches freedom is more important than happiness. Bernard is likewise charmed by Leigh-Cheri's romantic idealism, and the two fall in love. While drunk on tequila, Bernard accidentally blows up a UFO conference taking place opposite the CareFest, after which all the attendees witness a flying saucer escaping, leading Leigh-Cheri to believe the Argonian woman was really an alien.
Leigh-Cheri takes Bernard to meet her parents, but after Bernard accidentally kills Queen Tilli's pet lapdog, he slips out in disgrace. His visit to Seattle leads his recapture and return to prison. In solidarity, Leigh-Cheri transforms her attic bedroom into a copy of Bernard's prison cell, leaving her alone with only a bed, a lamp, and a package of Camel cigarettes. While contemplating the cigarette pack, Leigh-Cheri is drawn to the image of pyramids in the design and determines it is a secret message from the red-haired Argonians advocating self-determination, expressed by the word "CHOICE". Leigh-Cheri's self-imposed exile draws media coverage and causes a movement of people locking themselves away for various causes. Bernard learns Leigh-Cheri is behind the wave of self-imposed imprisonments and sends her a scathing letter for sacrificing both her freedom and her happiness—the antithesis of Bernard's philosophy—and leading others to do the same. Shortly thereafter, Leigh-Cheri is devastated to learn Bernard has been killed in an apparent escape attempt.
Leigh-Cheri leaves her attic exile and agrees to marry the handsome, wealthy Saudi Arabian prince A'ben Fizel on the condition he will build her a pyramid as a wedding gift. A'ben Fizel suspects Leigh-Cheri still loves Bernard and sets spies to follow her. While exploring the completed pyramid the night before the wedding, Leigh-Cheri discovers Bernard, alive, preparing to set up dynamite to destroy the pyramid. While the two reconcile, A'ben Fizel seals the pyramid, leaving the lovers to die.
Trapped for weeks, Bernard and Leigh-Cheri survive on wedding cake and champagne while they discuss pyramids, redheads, the Moon, the Argonian message on the box of Camel cigarettes, and the mystery of "how to make love stay." When their supplies run out, Leigh-Cheri decides to sacrifice herself to save Bernard by using the dynamite to make an opening while Bernard sleeps, determining sacrifice is the only way to make love stay. At the last moment, Bernard awakens and attempts to shield Leigh-Cheri from the blast, causing them both to be caught in the explosion.
The lovers wake in a hospital, alive but rendered deaf by the explosion. In the interim, Leigh-Cheri's father Max has died of a heart attack and Gulietta, revealed to be Max's illegitimate elder sister, has returned to her homeland to rule as queen. Leigh-Cheri and Bernard remain in love and live happily ever after.
- King Max Furstenberg-Barcalona – the deposed king, former gambler, sports fanatic, enemy of blackberry brambles, and father of Leigh-Cheri.
- Leigh-Cheri Furstenberg-Barcalona – the former princess, an idealist, nature-lover, and Ralph Nader supporter.
- Queen Tilli Furstenberg-Barcalona – 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 Mickey (originally Baby) Wrangle – known by the nickname "Woodpecker," he has anarchist leanings, is a self-proclaimed outlaw, and employs explosives to destroy buildings; his mantra is "Yum."
This novel is about the primacy of the individual and "metaphysical outlawism".
The cover to the first edition is modeled after a pack of Camel cigarettes.
The post-hardcore band La Dispute made use of excerpts from Still Life with Woodpecker as lyrics for their EP Here, Hear. Additionally, the title of the song "The Last Lost Continent" from their album Somewhere At the Bottom of the River Between Vega and Altair is a reference to the first chapter of the book.
Actor Sebastian Stan, known best for his portrayal of The Winter Soldier in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, has stated that this book is a favorite and made an impact on his life.
- 1980, USA, Bantam (ISBN 0-553-27093-1), Pub date ? Oct 1980, paperback (First edition)
- 1980, USA, Bantam (ISBN 0-553-01260-6), Pub date ? Oct 1980, hardback (Limited to 2,000 copies)
- 1980, UK, Sidgwick & Jackson (ISBN 0-283-98713-8), Pub date ? Oct 1980, hardback
- 1994, USA, Bantam USA (ISBN 0-553-34897-3), Pub date ? December 1994, paperback
- 1994, UK, Bantam (ISBN 0-553-40898-4), Pub date 1 December 1994, paperback
- 2001, USA, No Exit Press (ISBN 1-84243-022-X), Pub date 9 April 2001, paperback
- 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.
- Siegel, Mark (1980). Tom Robbins. University of Wyoming. ISBN 978-0884300663. Retrieved 25 August 2015.