Book Review: “Another Roadside Attraction” by Tom Robbins

I picked up my copy of this book from the ‘free table’ in Kalalau Valley, Kauai, and I can think of no place it more belongs. My copy was old, perhaps one of the original printings, bound together with black duck tape, moldy, and scented with lavender. It felt as much a part of the valley as anything else in that awesome place, and it’s quite a place:

Having spent four spring breaks there, I’ve met quite a few of the bohemians who live in the valley, sometimes partied with them, and partaken of their local *ahem* cuisine, beverages, and entertainments. It’s a fun place, sometimes controversial with the locals in Kauai, but also rugged and challenging. So it makes sense that the people there would like this book (though not that they gave it away). Another Roadside Attraction is basically Kalalau incarnate… er, Kalalau inlibris?

The story is a sort of hippie bible. The main characters are part of a band of American gypsies, or beatniks, or some other disparaging term from the 50’s. Amanda, the protagonist, is a young mom, cook, and animal lover who marries John Paul, the son of missionaries from The Congo. Together, they decide to set up a roadside attraction and, of all things, settle on a museum / hotdog stand, even though Amanda is a vegetarian. They complete the place with a flea circus and some other kitschy odds and ends, and end up attracting some other friends and cohorts from across the country. The story sees them tangled up in a conspiracy with the Catholic Church, haunted by government agents, and on the verge of bringing about the apocalypse. Pretty much normal drama for the hippies in Kalalau.

As with some of his other books, Tom Robbins writing here is dense and incredibly vibrant, full of colorful metaphors and similes but a bit of a mystic swamp to slog through. I was slow to get through it, but it picked up and had an awesome ending. If someone was newly moving to the states, I would recommend this to them the same way I would recommend ‘Kafka on the Shore’ to someone moving to Japan.

Difficulty: 7/10

Weirdness Level: 10/10.

Did I like it? It’s definitely a book for a particular time and place – and that place is somewhere in California in the 70’s, but Hawaii is still catching up so it sorta works.

What now? I hold onto the book until I can return it to the valley where it belongs.