Book Review: Flaming Iguanas

Published February 17, 2017 by Iphis of Scyros

OMG, I started writing this post on Tuesday.  WTF happened?


My choice for challenge #19, “Read a book in which a character of color goes on a spiritual journey,” is untraditional in a number of ways.


Flaming Iguanas:  An Illustrated All-Girl Road Novel Thing has a casual, comical narrative style, interspersed with the occasional clip-art style illustration, often humorous (and sometimes a bit racy.)  It also doesn’t fit most traditional definitions of a “spiritual journey,” but I think Tomato’s journey does count as spiritual.  It also has what I call “Internet formatting,” wherein the paragraphs aren’t indented, and have a blank line between them.  That normally drives me batty on paper.  (Which sounds odd, when you think about how many blogs I follow…)  Between the formatting and the fact that Tomato Rodriguez begins her journey by accidentally running over someone’s cat, it’s surprising I was able to get more than a few pages in.

Once I got past the distressing kitty death (which was also distressing for Tomato, of course), it didn’t take long for the text to carry me away despite the Internet formatting.  Tomato Rodriguez (yes, Tomato is what she calls herself, and no, it’s not her real name) is an unusual narrator, in that she’s entirely honest — perhaps sometimes too honest — but also a fairly standard narrator of the tale of a journey, because she’s not really sure who or what she properly is.  She has a long section, early on, describing all the ways she doesn’t really feel like she fits into any of the categories everyone else does (not white, not black, not Puerto Rican, not straight, not gay) and that passage was I think the first part where I was like “you are totally speaking my language.”  (Though I’m less unsure of where I fit on some of those points…)

Allegedly, the reason Tomato starts her motorcycle trip across the country is because her father is dying of cancer in California, and she wants to go be with him, or say goodbye anyway.  But mostly she’s trying to discover herself.  Admittedly, that’s one of the cliches of the “road trip” genre, but I feel like Tomato’s self-discovery is different enough from the (usually very macho) standard that there’s nothing cliched here.

I want to quote a few passages, but I don’t feel like I can quote the first one that I marked, because it uses some of the language I don’t like to use on my blog.   (Though I use it all the time IRL.  In fact, I used some to my boss the other day…um, but not in a bad way.  It was more the “I’m a f***-up” way.)  Anyway, that passage was Tomato talking about gay porn.  I marked it so I could easily find it again, because that’s one of those passages you just want to read over and over again.  (Not that it actually contains any gay porn.  Though I probably would have marked it for that reason, too…)

Okay, here’s a good one:

I hate, hate, hate catching sight of celebrities in real life.  Even though they’re supposed to rot too, I need to maintain the illusion that there are a million copies of each actor and that they’re truly the characters they play and will live forever on TV.

Yes.  Oh my God, yes.  This is exactly how I feel, too.  (Of course, that made last year even worse for me.  Losing the ‘original copy’ of some of my favorite characters of all time…I’m gonna cry if I start thinking about it.  Moving on.)

“I’ll be turning forty this August,” he said.  “And the way I see it, forty is a great big passport to ‘I don’t care.'”  He said that he would eat lemon meringue pie every day if he wanted because lemon meringue pie made him think clearly.  He said there was never enough.  He would become agoraphobic and have it delivered, and wear his shorts up to his chest when he answered the door.

Sure, some of that is a little over the top, but I’m so glad I’m not the only one who hit the state of “I don’t care” on hitting 40.  (Which is not to say that I don’t still get sore about getting a year older.  I told my early 30something co-worker today that I would only start admitting when my birthday was when I started getting younger again.)

And (because this is a requirement) I must quote the classical call-back section:

Then out of the blue, just like that, I asked him what he thought about death.  He said we’re like the plants in the park.  Some are in bloom, some are buds, and then they die.  New ones come.  It was so simple, made so much sense.  I started to feel better.  But like most nice thoughts in my head, they usually only last for a little while like ice cream in my stomach/smoke in my lungs.  Then the Stephen King worms crawl back around my future dead eyes and I’m afraid again of how unpretty it all becomes.

But what he said felt too simple and true to be bullshit, and I wanted to find the beauty in road kill.  Like, if ideas could be compared to styles, what he said would be solid, simple Scandinavian wood furniture, while a lot of New Age stuff could be compared to frilly, cheesy fiberboard Spanish-style furniture with woodgrain paper pasted on top.

Of course, his ideas aren’t just solid, but also really old.  (The “he” in question, btw, being a random person she met on the bus who happened to smell like spaghetti.)  I would say that his comparison of people to the plants in the park is reminiscent of the words of Glaucos:

The generations of men are like the leaves of the forest.  Leaves fall when the breezes blow, in the springtime others grow as they go and come again so upon the earth do men. (Iliad, Book VI, W.H.D. Rouse translation)

(C’mon, did you really think I could go that long without quoting the Iliad?  If you did, you must be new around here…)  So Tomato’s instincts are good (and/or the guy she sat next to happens to be versed in classical literature) because that’s a sturdy opinion that’s already stood the test of more than two thousand years.

Last one (from much earlier in the book):

I think about death too much, even when I’m not a moving target for trucks.  Everyone’s supposed to have this one nightmare that’s a theme in their life, a painting they paint a thousand times/a neurotic cul-de-sac.  One person’s obsession may be Justice — another’s may be Artistic Lighting or Saving Alcoholics.  Mine is Death and Time.  I get two obsessions because my sun sign is Leo.  I get more.  Always more. / Twice the terror.

We all want to be remembered but we’re not going to be.  Even Bette Midler and Zsa Zsa Gabor will rot and eventually become obsolete like some sort of movie star during the Egyptian age.  And if you do happen to become remembered, you will only become chipped stone with pigeon shit all over you like a statue of Marcus Aurelius.  No one will remember how good your chicken was or that your house smelled like strawberry incense or throw up.  None of that will matter.

No one has any pull, and I realize no one’s opinion of anything really matters more than yours until they figure out how to stay alive forever.

She goes on like that for a while longer, actually, but you get the gist of it.  I wanted to quote this because this line of thinking has been plaguing me of late, and one of the earlier books I read for the challenge really had me thinking about it a lot, too.

Lately I feel like I’m wasting my life (and like I probably don’t have much of it left) and should be out there living, and yet if I were to drop everything and go on a motorcycle trip across the continent like Tomato, wouldn’t that make everything worse?  (Though I totally want to…sort of…)  No one’s going to remember me as is, and if I stop trying to lead a normal life and go off and live weirdly for whatever time remains to me, then I’ll be even less remembered.  But do I even want to be remembered?  Honestly, there’s part of me that doesn’t.  (If you’ve ever played Final Fantasy VIII, the part where Squall suddenly has this fit and starts shouting that he doesn’t want people talking about him in the past tense was about the only place in the entire game where I connected with him.)

Part of me’s been wanting to write a whole post about this ever since I got about 2/3 of the way through Oscar Wao, and part of me (possibly the same part?) has been dreading the idea of talking (typing) it all through that honestly and openly.

But I’ve digressed.

The bottom line is that this is definitely a fun read, but probably not for more conservatively minded readers.  There is swearing, discussion of sex (also some actual sex, but mostly just discussion) and generally “out there” stuff.

No idea when my next book report will go up.  The schedule for my class readings had started to pick up, and I’ve already started researching my final project.  (Due late April…)  The topic of the final project is the Dred Scott case, so I’ll likely use one of my research books for #10.  (But if I start feeling overwhelmed by my work, I may try to perk myself up with a shorter book for one of the other challenges….)

(Final aside:  I wonder if anyone else has ever seriously referenced both the Iliad and Final Fantasy VIII in the same book review?  And if they haven’t, would I even want to be remembered for that?)

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