Keillor’s moments of contemplation have produced some of the finest essays in this lovely collection.

THE KEILLOR READER

Melancholy and joy infuse Keillor’s (O, What a Luxury: Verses Lyrical, Vulgar, Pathetic and Profound, 2013, etc.) latest collection.

Heir to Mark Twain, James Thurber and E. B. White, Keillor offers more than laconic, sometimes-rueful, reports from the fictional Midwestern town of Lake Wobegon. Besides selected Prairie Home Companion monologues—written in an adrenaline rush on the morning of each show—this collection contains poetry, fiction and assorted essays, each introduced by autobiographical musings. A frequent subject is Keillor’s childhood among the Sanctified Brethren, fundamentalists in Anoka, Minn., who “did not read novels or poetry and were wary of history, except what was in Scripture.” Writing, they believed, was sinful; nevertheless, becoming a writer was Keillor’s dream. In junior high school, he reported on sports for a local weekly; he worked his way through the University of Minnesota as an English major; and in 1969, he sold his first story to the New YorkerA Prairie Home Companion began on the radio in 1974. “My bread and butter,” he writes, “was the good people of Lake Wobegon, but writing about good people is an uphill climb. Their industriousness, their infernal humility, their schoolmarmish sincerity…their clichés falling like clockwork—they can be awfully tiring to be around.” Those good people, however, have not been Keillor’s only subjects. Here, he gives us an acerbic newspaper column about Americans who “shell out upward of $10 billion a year for health care for pets” but can’t abide the thought “that everybody in America should receive the same level of care enjoyed by an elderly golden retriever.” He lovingly recalls the urbane Paris Review editor George Plimpton. In “Home,” “Cheerfulness” and “My Stroke (I’m Okay),” he celebrates the gifts of sharing your world with people you’ve known “almost forever” and working at what you love. “The key to cheerfulness, I discovered…was forward motion,” he writes. “The calm contemplative life equals melancholy.”

Keillor’s moments of contemplation have produced some of the finest essays in this lovely collection.

Pub Date: May 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-670-02058-4

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Feb. 24, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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SLEEPERS

An extraordinary true tale of torment, retribution, and loyalty that's irresistibly readable in spite of its intrusively melodramatic prose. Starting out with calculated, movie-ready anecdotes about his boyhood gang, Carcaterra's memoir takes a hairpin turn into horror and then changes tack once more to relate grippingly what must be one of the most outrageous confidence schemes ever perpetrated. Growing up in New York's Hell's Kitchen in the 1960s, former New York Daily News reporter Carcaterra (A Safe Place, 1993) had three close friends with whom he played stickball, bedeviled nuns, and ran errands for the neighborhood Mob boss. All this is recalled through a dripping mist of nostalgia; the streetcorner banter is as stilted and coy as a late Bowery Boys film. But a third of the way in, the story suddenly takes off: In 1967 the four friends seriously injured a man when they more or less unintentionally rolled a hot-dog cart down the steps of a subway entrance. The boys, aged 11 to 14, were packed off to an upstate New York reformatory so brutal it makes Sing Sing sound like Sunnybrook Farm. The guards continually raped and beat them, at one point tossing all of them into solitary confinement, where rats gnawed at their wounds and the menu consisted of oatmeal soaked in urine. Two of Carcaterra's friends were dehumanized by their year upstate, eventually becoming prominent gangsters. In 1980, they happened upon the former guard who had been their principal torturer and shot him dead. The book's stunning denouement concerns the successful plot devised by the author and his third friend, now a Manhattan assistant DA, to free the two killers and to exact revenge against the remaining ex-guards who had scarred their lives so irrevocably. Carcaterra has run a moral and emotional gauntlet, and the resulting book, despite its flaws, is disturbing and hard to forget. (Film rights to Propaganda; author tour)

Pub Date: July 10, 1995

ISBN: 0-345-39606-5

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1995

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Naughty good fun from an impossibly sardonic rogue, quickly rising to Twainian stature.

ME TALK PRETTY ONE DAY

The undisputed champion of the self-conscious and the self-deprecating returns with yet more autobiographical gems from his apparently inexhaustible cache (Naked, 1997, etc.).

Sedaris at first mines what may be the most idiosyncratic, if innocuous, childhood since the McCourt clan. Here is father Lou, who’s propositioned, via phone, by married family friend Mrs. Midland (“Oh, Lou. It just feels so good to . . . talk to someone who really . . . understands”). Only years later is it divulged that “Mrs. Midland” was impersonated by Lou’s 12-year-old daughter Amy. (Lou, to the prankster’s relief, always politely declined Mrs. Midland’s overtures.) Meanwhile, Mrs. Sedaris—soon after she’s put a beloved sick cat to sleep—is terrorized by bogus reports of a “miraculous new cure for feline leukemia,” all orchestrated by her bitter children. Brilliant evildoing in this family is not unique to the author. Sedaris (also an essayist on National Public Radio) approaches comic preeminence as he details his futile attempts, as an adult, to learn the French language. Having moved to Paris, he enrolls in French class and struggles endlessly with the logic in assigning inanimate objects a gender (“Why refer to Lady Flesh Wound or Good Sir Dishrag when these things could never live up to all that their sex implied?”). After months of this, Sedaris finds that the first French-spoken sentiment he’s fully understood has been directed to him by his sadistic teacher: “Every day spent with you is like having a cesarean section.” Among these misadventures, Sedaris catalogs his many bugaboos: the cigarette ban in New York restaurants (“I’m always searching the menu in hope that some courageous young chef has finally recognized tobacco as a vegetable”); the appending of company Web addresses to television commercials (“Who really wants to know more about Procter & Gamble?”); and a scatological dilemma that would likely remain taboo in most households.

Naughty good fun from an impossibly sardonic rogue, quickly rising to Twainian stature.

Pub Date: June 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-316-77772-2

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2000

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