Sunday, August 7, 2011

"Another Roadside Attraction"

I picked up Tom Robbins' Another Roadside Attraction from my mother's library last summer.  It seemed, from the blurb on the back like it would be a fun, light summer read (1973 publication). I remember Mom talking about her Tom Robbins books when I was growing up.  She would even laugh out loud at night from her bedroom.

Another Roadside Attraction gives us a group of radical hippies, a baboon and a scientist existing in Washington state.  They spend groovy days feeding hot dogs to pilgrims, dressing flea circus performers, hunting wild mushrooms and living in love until an unexpected visitor... or package... or relic arrives.  Robbins' writing is lovely; creative and smart.    He can get very deep.  In fact, it occurred to me one day (about 8 months into the book) that this story is "heavy man" and why it was taking me so long to get through.  Robbins examines American culture in the later 1960's, politically and spiritually.  Remarkably and truly astounding to me was how similar the issues are today.  I shudder to think how little we have progressed or is it how far we have regressed?  Then again - life is cyclical.  Heavy.

An Excerpt From Another Roadside Attraction by Tom Robbins
History is a discipline of aggregate bias.  A history may emphasize social events, or cultural or political or economic or scientific or military or agricultural or artistic or philosophical.  It may, if it possesses the luxury of voluminousness or the arrogance of superficiality, attempt to place nearly equal emphasis upon each of these aspects, but there is no proof that a general, inclusive history is any more meaningful than a specialized one.  If there is anything that the writer has learned from Amanda (and he must confess having learned a measure), it is that the fullness of existence embodies an overwhelming intricate balance of defined, ill-defined, un-defined, moving, stopping, dancing, falling, singing, coughing, growing, dying, timeless and time-bound molecules – and the spaces in between.  So complex is this structure, and so foolishly simple, the historians tool will not fit it: they either break off and go dumb in the scholar’s hands or else pierce right through the material leaving embarrassing rents difficult to mend.  Rule One in the manual of cosmic mechanics: a linear wrench will not turn a spiral bolt.  Drawing courage from that rule, the author can boast that his approach to history is no worse than any other and probably better than some.  And so what?
      “And so what?”  the writer types, tapping the Remington softly so as not to disturb Amanda.  It is sunset now and she has retired to her sanctuary.  Dusk and dawn, evidently, are the advantageous times for trances.  Evidently.  The poor girl has been in and out of trance a dozen times during the past two days.  Her eyes are as flat and lifeless as linoleum cutouts, the skin sags from beneath them like fresh dough dripping from a baker’s spoon.  And still she’s beautiful.  She was just in the living room, here, where the author is typing; wearing only blue lace panties and a sheer cotton blouse of the peasant or gypsy variety; not dressed that way in order to arouse the author – as has sometimes been the case – but due to carelessness; her thoughts are elsewhere.  All that she has learned in twelve enervating sessions she learned this morning at sunrise when the “voices” informed her that she would soon be receiving a letter.  Big deal.  Great voices, huh?  They did not even say from whom.  It could be a letter from Al’s Butterfly Shop in Suez soliciting a contribution to Al’s Journal of Lepidoptera, a monthly magazine.  It could be a letter from her Uncle Mick in Padadena.

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