Still Life with a Woodpecker is a story where things are not what they seem. Objects are more than objects, authors are more than just narrative voices, and emotions are more than a feeling.
The book is often described as “a love story inside a pack of cigarettes.” Robbins wanted to write a story where an object has its own emotion. A pack of camel cigarettes may have seemed boring before, but suddenly it has a hidden message in it’s package design and is evoking a whole range of emotions. After reading about the main character going on a “love strike” and spending countless hours in a dark room contemplating her pack of camels, it is hard to imagine any one then going to buy a boring pack of Marlboro lights.
Love is also more than an emotion in Still life. Robbins lists the ways to make love stay in the beginning of chapter 45. His advice is not the usual “Never go to bed angry” or “take out the trash without being asked.” Love is treated as an actual being with hair and presence, and a fickle one at that. It seems that the only way to make love stay is to cheat it and lie to it. However, if you are willing to go through the trouble of driving to Brooklyn to buy a cheesecake for the two of you to split, chant foreign incantations over a burning lock of love’s hair, and pee out the window because the world is on fire, then doesn’t that prove that you are worthy enough for love to stick around a little while loner?
Throughout the book, Robbins keeps the reader updated on his writing process and the glitches he encounters along he way; he has purchased a new electric typewriter. Though his new typewriter “will rap out a page and a half if you just look at it hard,” it’s working against him as it tries to write it’s own novel rather than his. Even paining it a bright, lusty red doesn’t help and in the end Robbins gives up on the partnership. He attacks the Remington SL3 typewriter and finishes the end of the book in his own writing. The story is literally finished in a slanted scrawl.
A typewriter is an enemy, the word Choice is magic, and love is a cause to fight for. Robbins always knows how to make his readers stay.