Monday, September 12, 2005

Another Roadside Attraction

Tall Brad gave me Another Roadside Attraction by Tom Robbins almost a year ago, pehaps more than a year ago, with the assurance that I'd enjoy it and that it shared characteristics with books by Christopher Moore. In honor of the book, I shall now ramble... For the record, you can have an English degree and have never read a word of Robbins - but I'm guessing many of you have never read historic utopias from the early Tudor/Stuart period or the collected writings of Queen Elizabeth, so it's tit for tat. I did enjoy Another Roadside Attraction, but is Robbins ever a wordy bastard. When Matt offered on After School Snack today to create a Tom Robbins-style rant, I knew exactly what option not to vote for (and unlike Matt, my boss is celebrating the whole Iowa thing, whereas I'd have a difficult time even being able to tell you which campus was hit by a tornado last week - I feel smug just knowing Iowa was hit by a tornado at all - it's the extent of my regional pride). Robbins' writing is dizzying, almost as much as Elizabeth's, and she liked to write once sentence per page. I'd find myself sliding in and out of the feeling that it was enjoyable to read his writing for writing's sake, and absorbing the joy he obviously takes in crafting a paragraph from the beginning word to the closing sentence, to wishing he'd just get on with it and expound on the story about the killer Catholic monks (though generally I hate stories about Catholic intrigue - that whole Dan Brown thing just irritates the bejebus out of me) and when the damn mummy was going to enter the picture and how it was so important when I was running out of book. In the end I enjoyed it most for how the writing captured the spirit of the main characters - modern "hippies" - and their relaxed, meandering, semi-mystical/spiritual approach to everything in life. It was obvious that much of the meandering (in writing and thought) was really designed to get you into a flow and relaxed so that something semi-profound relating to religion (and by religion I mean traditional religion as well as the general idea that the study of self can produce religious insight) could be lobbed the reader's way, requiring a short reread to understand how the bits fit together to create the point. Amanda always seemed the likeliest character to have these bits of wisdom at hand, though without the other characters as foils they wouldn't have had the impact.

Minister: No, I had no connection with the military forces in Vietnam. I was a civilian missionary. My wife and I ministered to the Bahnar tribsemen. The Bahnar are a primitive people and were not involved politically in the war.
Amanda: How did you enjoy the Bahnar?
Minister: We weren't there to enjoy them. We were there to help them. But they were very friendly to us, if that's what you meant. The Bahnar Vietnamese are basically fine, simple folks. Of course they had some extremely backward ideas.
Amanda: Could you please give me an example?
Minister: Well, for example, your Bahnar believed that good souls go live under the earth when they die and bad souls go live in the sky. You can see what that implies. They though Heaven was down and Hell was up.
Amanda: But you changed all that?
Minister: Oh yes. Of course. That's what we were there for. We taught them it was just the other way around. (p. 194)

In some minor aspects, this book set me in mind of James Morrows' Bible Stories for Adults, which Amazon assures me is liked by people who like Christopher Moore's The Stupidest Angel, but which doesn't have the convoluted writing of Another Roadside Attraction. Morrow is more about (semi-)singular points in that book because it's a collection of short stories, so there's not quite the weaving of story lines and ideas exhibited by Robbins. I preferred Towing Jehovah to Bible Stories for Adults, however, so if you get a choice, you might want to go with the later.

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