Tom Robbins

Another Roadside Attraction

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Another Roadside Attraction Summary

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Another Roadside Attraction is the debut novel by Tom Robbins, published in 1971. Robbins uses an intimate, diary-like writing style to introduce iconoclastic concepts pertaining to religion and culture, combined with a humorous style and absurd imagery.

The story begins with a series of anecdotes, beginning with one about a magician’s underwear found in a suitcase belonging to John Paul Ziller, and then several describing a free-spirited woman named Amanda. These include an interaction with an elderly Navajo man, an encounter with a group of gypsies, giving birth to a son named Thor with electrical eyes during a thunderstorm, and the birthday gift of a performing bear given to Amanda by her father; the bear does not understand English and thus only performs when it feels like it. Amanda wakes up one morning to discover a word written in a strange language on her palm; it will not wash off. She tries to research its meaning but fails.

Amanda plans to launch a butterfly conservatory, and consults with friends over lunch. She makes plans to have a band led by her friend Stanislaw, Capitalist Pig, travel the world on tour collecting butterfly larvae and samples. The band is arrested at the airport for smuggling the insects, however, and a rumor that butterfly eggs would get you high causes the unintentional destruction of the conservatory. Amanda then meets a man named John Paul Ziller and marries him within hours.

They settle on a patch of land in Skagit Valley in the countryside of Washington State. Coming across an abandoned restaurant, they decide they will open a hot dog stand and a new zoo. Amanda has Thor with them and John Paul has a baboon named Moc Cul, and they decide that their new zoo, to be called The Capt. Kendrick Memorial Hot Dog Wildlife Preserve, will be a new sort of roadside attraction, one in which the animals are not kept in cages but are instead allowed to roam freely. Their initial efforts to collect animal attractions results in just a few garter snakes, an old flea circus, and a tsetse fly encased in amber–and very, very dead.

Amanda becomes pregnant. Their lives are dull until John Paul and Amanda receive a letter from Plucky Purcell, who informs them that he has been able to infiltrate the Society of the Felicitator, a secret order of monks who engage in assassinations on the behalf of the Vatican. After an accident, Amanda suffers a miscarriage, and becomes ill as a result, and the cost of her medical care is more than they have on hand. John Paul makes the painful decision to sell his most prized work of art, the Non-Vibrating Astrological Dodo Dome Spectacular.

The narrator, Marx Marvelous, identifies himself and reveals he is relating this story from the future. He implies that very soon a corpse will arrive in John Paul and Amanda’s life and change the course of their lives forever. He also reveals that in his present, he and Amanda are in federal custody.

John Paul and Amanda hear on the news about a man who attempted to kidnap a baboon from the Seattle Zoo. They decide to post bail for the man, who turns out to be Marx Marvelous himself, a scientist and adventurer. John Paul and Amanda interview Marx and offer him the job of manager of their zoo. Marx agrees because he perceives in John Paul and Amanda the cutting edge of a new spirituality that will, he believes, eventually replace Christianity altogether.

More letters arrive from Plucky Purcell, who remains one of the monks of the Society of Felicitators, only now he has been transferred to a station in the Vatican itself. An earthquake strikes in Vatican City, and ancient vaults and tunnels under the city are broken open. Plucky ventures down into the vaults intending to steal whatever he can find. While underground, he discovers the corpse of Jesus Christ himself, yet to rise from the dead in the Second Coming. Plucky takes the corpse and covers it in plaster to make it look like a statue. He brings it with him and goes to John Paul and Amanda at their zoo.

The friends debate what to do with the corpse, but before they can decide on a course of action, the government raids the zoo and John Paul and Plucky flee, leaving Marx and Amanda behind in the confusion. Marx and Amanda hear some days later that Plucky is dead and attempted to put John Paul aboard a high-altitude balloon designed to explore the upper atmosphere. John Paul is presumed dead and the corpse is presumed destroyed.

Marx ends his narration by considering Amanda and her life, and suggests that she could be a new messiah for a new age of the world, and asks the reader to take the suggestion seriously.