John Tollefson, the son of Byron and Mary of Lake Wobegon, leaves Minnesota for upstate New York, to manage a public radio station at a college for academically challenged children of financially gifted parents. Free from the Dark Lutherans of his hometown, he makes a pleasant bachelor life for himself in New York. He buys a new house and paints it a deep gold. He has a bright idea for a restaurant specializing in fresh produce. He falls in love with a historian named Alida Freeman. He is presented with public radio's coveted Wally Award. In the midst of plenty, it occurs to John that his life lacks nobility and grace. A consumer of fine food and wine and giver of good parties, he yet has no coherent life story. Compared to his great-grandfather John Tollefson, who finagled his way over from Norway, he feels rootless, restless, joined in no struggle, with nothing at stake. The only true magnificence in his life is Alida, who eludes his courtship and gives him an impassioned speech about the pleasures of living alone. Folded into the romance of John and Alida is the checkered saga of his ancestors - dour butcher, a playboy publisher, a medicine-show politician, Siamese-twin ballplayers, a Texas Pentacostalist, and a bank embezzler - and Lake Wobegon itself, with its bachelor farmers, its stout-hearted burghers and housewives, its simple code: Cheer up, Make yourself useful, Mind your manners, and Avoid self-pity. A useful code, as John discovers in his pursuit of magnificance, especially as the going gets tougher.
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A decade after he first explored the small-town precincts of Lake Wobegon, Minnesota, Garrison Keillor makes a comical return to his roots. Not that Wobegon Boy takes place entirely within Mist County. The narrator, John Tollefson, made an early exit from his hometown and has spent the last 20 years managing a college radio station in upstate New York. Here he seems to have put a healthy distance between himself and his Wobegonian past.
For the author, John's job is a handy pulpit, allowing him to fulminate against radio, New Age affectation, and campus politicking. Keillor remains a master of the cantankerous one-liner, yet there's a romance here, too--between John and a historian named Alida Freeman. And while Keillor can't resist roping Alida into his own pan-Scandinavian schtick--she's writing a scholarly study of a 19th-century Norwegian neuropath who administered high colonics to Lincoln himself--the love story is genuinely touching and gives the novel an extra emotional ballast.
So, too, does the magnetic pull of Lake Wobegon. John keeps describing life back in Minnesota as one long exercise in sensory (and emotional) deprivation: "We were not brought up to experience pleasure, so it doesn't register with us, like writing on glass with a pencil. Dullness is our stock-in-trade, dullness honed to its keenest edge." Nonetheless, he returns twice in the course of the novel, and his sojourns among the Lutherans are the source of not only comedy but home truths.About the Author:
Garrison Keillor lives in St Paul, Minnesota, home of A Prairie Home Companion, his radio show that has been on the air since 1974. He wrote and appeared in Robert Altman's final film, A Prairie Home Companion and is the author of many books including the Lake Wobegon novels, which include Lake Wobegon Days, Pontoon and Pilgrims.
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