Keillor (Happy To Be There
, 1982) leads here from his strength—humor based on a true grip on the real—in this epic of Lake Wobegon, the imaginary small Minnesota town celebrated in Keillor's weekly monologues on "Prairie Home Companion," his show on Public Radio. Keillor's fans will grab it, but word should get out to people who never heard of him: like Mark Twain, Keillor is a highly sophisticated teller of tales (his stories have appeared in The New Yorker) who gets to the essence of everyday America. There are some belly laughs in "Wobegon," many chuckles—and always the pleasure of recognition. The book casually mixes autobiographical stretches with stories about the inhabitants of the town that can't be found on the Minnesota map, along with its history and mores. Tales—anywhere from a paragraph to several pages each—pour out head over heels, outrageous, earthy, warm, sly, always funny even when they're sad. Mostly he avoids sentimentality, but when he doesn't, it's forgivable—he's earned it. His language is American as it is spoken, buffed to a shine by his years on radio. He's very good about childhood (his own burdened with an outsized imagination in the 1950s) and school and the gap between God-fearing parents with limited educations and the children they sent off to college. He's a magician at evoking summer, winter, fall and spring: seasons that become chapter headings and background for more stories. And he's terrific at catching the rivalry between the town's Norwegian and German settlers and between Lutherans and Catholics. Lake Wobegon, which now boasts a statue of the Unknown Norwegian, should make room for another monument: To Keillor, who had the concern and craft to bring it alive.
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