And Then the Wombat Pulled Out a Gun

One of the odder books I’ve read recently is Howard Anderson’s Albert of Adelaide. The cover image of the platypus makes it easy for one to expect a heart-warming animal tale along the lines of The Wind in the Willows, but that impression doesn’t last long. Albert—he’s the platypus—has escaped from the Adelaide zoo to search for “Old Australia,” a human-free promised land of sorts, dreamed about by the creatures in the zoo. He’s tired of his daily routine: wake, get shoved out into his viewing area, get fed, crawl back into the burrow at night. He’s also haunted by the memory of his mother’s death defending him from a dog when he was just a pup (a pup? a kit? a platypette?).

When we join Albert, he’s wandering lost and on the verge of heat stroke through the Australian desert. The book quickly moves into a sort of hallucinatory western, “peopled” with kangaroos (most of them gun-carrying), a pyromaniac wombat, a pair of gay bandicoots, and a raccoon who landed down under after a panicked flight from the docks of San Francisco on a ghost ship. There are also dingoes. And a badly scarred, formerly prize-fighting Tasmanian devil.

I don’t watch westerns. I don’t read them. But one way or another, this book kept me going. Partly, I just wanted to see what craziness would happen next; partly, I really did start to grow fond of the blood-thirsty little marsupials. When you need a little something unexpected, you may want to pick this volume up. Just bear in mind that you’ll be reading the equivalent of a collection of just-so stories penned by Hunter S. Thompson.

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