WLT by Garrison Keillor
Kirkus Star


A Radio Romance
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The glory days of Midwest radio prove the ideal subject for old radio-hand Keillor, now writing at the height of his awesome power, which could make a homesick cat laugh. Brothers Ray and Roy Soderbjerg set up station WLT (With Lettuce and Tomato) in Minneapolis in 1926 to draw crowds to their wilting sandwich restaurant. The station proves a gold mine after the two reluctantly agree to allow commercials, and the brothers turn their somewhat divided attention (Ray's chief vocation is sex, Roy's inventing the unnecessary) to the new medium. The novel takes off on a sustained joyride as a hilarious bunch of characters are hired to fill the air with the cornball, pseudo-pious, pseudo- populist fare that held the Midwest in thrall until television offered a superior snow job. Keillor continually contrasts the smutty, lust-filled lives of the cast and crew in the studio with the wholesome, homespun drivel they broadcast. On air, for example, Little Becky is a winsome angel, but look out--the chain-smoking child star will perform the crudest of practical jokes on the unwary. A blind sports announcer, a crushingly cheerful songstress confined to her wheelchair by polio and fat, and a dissolute group of gospel singers are just some of the superb oddities that people Keillor's pages. A straight man to these comic figures and the novel's hero is young Francis With, who comes of age at the station and goes on to great things. The comedy is as broad as it comes, but it also has a depth that includes poignancy, particularly as it records the station's downhill slide. Humor and insight into the heart of raunchy America don't get any better than this.
Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1991
ISBN: 0140103805
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Viking
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 1991


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