Good folks if slightly nutty

2008-12-17 00:00

IT’S been quite a long time since I went to Lake Wobegon, that town in Minnesota where the folks are Lutheran and the mood is slightly mad.

This time, the action centres on Evelyn Peterson, who isn’t actually present. She dies peacefully at the very beginning, leaving instructions that her ashes should be encased in her emerald-green bowling ball and dropped into Lake Wobegon, while Andy Williams sings Moon River. Evelyn wasn’t only the devoted Lutheran quilt-maker that her family, friends and neighbours thought they knew, and finding all the hidden pieces of her life reveals a very different woman.

As plans proceed for her weird funeral, another celebration is about to take place in Lake Wobegon. Debbie Detmer is home from California for a “commitment ceremony” on board a pontoon boat, but she is subject to doubts when her intended can’t see past her ageing parents’ eccentricities to the substance of the solid Lake Wobegoners that they really are.

The whole thing climaxes in a hilarious setpiece involving a sinking pontoon boat, a naked parasailor, two dozen drunken Danish Lutheran doubters, an Elvis impersonator in a hot-air balloon and several kilograms of shrimp.

Keillor’s Lake Wobegon is a distillation of all that was good and sustaining, and slightly nutty, about his Midwestern, Nordic-descended childhood. The people of the town are good-hearted, if somewhat odd — certain of their values, but willing to consider new things. Keillor is one of the few authors that can make me laugh out loud. He has been writing about Lake Wobegon for decades, and far from being mired in the past, the place is bang up-to-date, with its old-time values intact. A book like this is lightweight, but in its own way profound. Lake Wobegon is a good place to spend some time.

Kate Hoole

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