No, that's not thunder you're hearing. More likely it's laughter from the Hereafter, for if there's any justice here or there, Mark Twain, Will Rogers, and James Thurber have already received their advance copies of this latest installment in the ongoing saga of Minnesota's endearingly phlegmatic Norwegian- Americans. Woebegon Boy isn't exactly a novel, but what the hell, who really wants one from the genial creator and host of public radio's Prairie Home Companion? What we're given here is a shred of a story--narrated by Keillor's protagonist John Tollefson, who escapes the stultifying "cheerfulness" of his homeland (and the girlfriend he doesn't want to marry) by securing a job as manager of a newly created radio station at upstate New York's nondescript St. James College. Shades of Jon Hassler close about the Horatio Algerlike John, who picks his way in and out of relationships with assorted academic phonies, potential business partners, and--most importantly--the Amazonian Alida Freeman, a lively university historian who isn't above any number of amorous tumbles with the smitten Wobegonian, but won't commit herself to "the doldrums of marriage." The plot is really only an excuse for comic riffs on such irresistible targets as political correctness, talk radio, feminist militancy, academic unfreedom, the polite impregnability of the Norwegian national character, sexual good manners, New Age music, and Lord knows what all else. There's a laugh on virtually every page of this fresh reimagining of the young-man-up-from-the- provinces novel, even during the truly touching extended sequence that describes John's return home for his father's funeral and reconciliation with exasperating friends and relations he thought he'd seen the last of. And John Tollefson is no mere innocent afoot (consider, for example, his perfectly reasonable theory that the New England Transcendentalists all suffered from chronic constipation). Drollery raised to the level of genuine comic art. And that's the news from Lake Wobegon.