Saturday, April 13, 2013

Another Roadside Attraction - Tom Robbins

    1971; 337 pages.  New Author? : No.  Genre : Comedy-Drama.  Overall Rating : 7*/10.

    Welcome to Captain Kendrick’s Memorial Hot Dog Wildlife Preserve.  There’s not a lot of wildlife – a flea circus, a couple of snakes, and a tsetse fly entombed in amber.  They do have hotdogs, of course, but there’s no coffee or soft drinks to go along with them.

    But pretty Amanda will charm you with sparkling chit-chat, and John Paul might play his flute for you.  Mon Cul the baboon is part of the staff, not part of the exhibit.  And you never know who is going to drop by the place, and what they might bring with them.

What’s To Like...
    All the characters are well-developed and interesting.  There are militant monks, Vatican secrets, and FBI agents.  The plotline is non-linear, but done well enough so that is wasn’t confusing.  If you are old enough to remember the 60’s, you’ll find the mindsets in Another Roadside Attraction very nostalgic.

    If you yearn to learn more about things like monarch butterflies, baboons, and 30-foot-long hot dogs, this book’s for you.  Indeed, there’s scarcely a page where Tom Robbins doesn’t go off on one or more tangents.

    The main tangent is religion, and I got the feeling that Robbins’ primary purpose in penning this was to give us his insightful and often caustic views on the subject.  Each character has his own philosophical outlook.  Marx is an agnostic; Plucky Purcell’s a skeptic, John Paul Ziller comes off as a stoic, and Amanda’s into the 60’s hippie-dippie stuff - worshipping the Earth Goddess, consulting the I Ching, and having trances.

    The literary accoutrements are all well and good here; unfortunately something’s missing – a well-paced story.  Oh, Plucky purloins an artifact from the Pope, but the book’s half over before this happens, and since the tale is told first-person and after-the-fact, there’s really no tension generated.  The repercussions of the robbery impact our little roadside attraction, and it could’ve made for an exciting climax, but instead the book just sort of trudges along to the end.

    If you’re into musing about God, religion, and the role of the church; this can be an enlightening read.  But if you’re more storyline-oriented (like I am), you may become frustrated by all the tale-stifling divergences.

Kewlest New Word…
    Twilit (adj.) : dimly illuminated by or as if by twilight.  Synonym : Crepuscular

    “There are three things that I like,” Amanda exclaimed upon awakening from her first long trance.  “These are: the butterfly, the cactus and the Infinite Goof.”
    Later, she amended the list to include mushrooms and motorcycles.  (pg. 4 )

    “Our laws are sacred.”
    “Aren’t our people sacred?”
    “Until a law is removed legally from the statute books, it must be obeyed blindly by everybody if we want to continue to live in a democratic society and not slide back into anarchy.  We’ve got to have laws and retribution.  Ever since we crawled out of caves, retribution has followed wrongdoing as the night the day.  When retribution ceases to follow evil, then the fabric of civilization begins to unravel.”
    Amanda stirred the custard.  “If we’ve always had retribution, how do you know what happens when we don’t have it?” she asked.   (pg. 250)

“When following the spoor of the Mirror Eaters it is wise not to tread on their droppings.”  (pg. 132)
    I found ARA to be a bit rough around the edges, mostly because of the weak storytelling.  A number of characters are introduced and developed, only to fade out and not return.  The pacing was uneven, and after a while, I cringed as yet another tangent arose to slow things down.

    But what saves the book from dropping into the “I struggled to complete it” category is the author’s innate writing talent.  Simply put, Tom Robbins is a master with words.  I still don’t care a whit about the monarch butterflies, but I am awed by the way he tells me about them.

    This was Robbins’ debut novel.  The next three are Even Cowgirls Get The Blues, Still Life With Woodpecker, and Jitterbug Perfume.  I’ve read them all, and they are all polished, stellar works.  Despite its shortcomings, Another Roadside Attraction was fun to read, just to be dazzled by Robbins’ deft manipulation of the words.  7 Stars.

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