Garrison Keillor Long Fiction Analysis
Garrison Keillor is one of America’s best-known humorists. His public reputation is extensive because of his prolific writing and recording, daily radio appearances, and weekly public performances. Generally speaking, his long fiction takes the same tone as his orally presented monologues from A Prairie Home Companion, although he employs many narrative perspectives in his fiction. He specializes in old-fashioned storytelling, such as one might hear from Mark Twain, James Thurber, or E. B. White—Keillor’s idols. Much of his writing is grounded in small-town midwestern life and contains autobiographical elements. All of his novels take place either in part or in whole in Minnesota or have significant connections to it. Small-town values come in for satiric treatment at times but are also largely seen as enduring and sustaining ideals. Some of the major themes that Keillor addresses involve the notion that pride and ambition are weaknesses to be avoided. While much of his writing has a comic tone and sometimes includes outrageous and even grotesque humorous scenes, it possesses a nostalgia for a less ambiguous past. Sharp expressions of insight about the human condition often emerge from his tales.
Keillor’s fiction tends to be episodic and often includes letters and (fictional) quotations from other works. Critics have noted occasional internal inconsistencies and the lack of forceful, forward-moving plots in Keillor’s novels. He has received accolades, however, for his fine ear for dialogue and his unfailing gift for using the right details to bring home a point. Generally, the novels are very readable, lightly satiric forays into human foibles. Keillor is not afraid to use Swiftian scatological references with some frequency; moreover, his blunt descriptions of some characters may strike readers as cruel.
John Tollefson, the first-person narrator of Wobegon Boy, begins by introducing the reader to his boyhood in Lake Wobegon. He recounts his relatives and their ancestry. He comes from hardy stock and has been taught to avoid self-pity “as though it were poison ivy in the woods.” At age thirty, John escapes Minneapolis and Korlyss, a woman he has been living with for about ten years, to take a job at St. James College in Red Cliff, New York, on Cayuga Lake. He becomes the manager at FM radio station WSJO.
The narrator satirizes a certain kind of small liberal arts college: “St. James College is an Episcopalian outpost heavily endowed by Christian bandits of the nineteenth century, a liberal arts school that administers a light coating of education to students lured by fine architecture and low admission requirements.” The tone of this quotation typifies Keillor’s style. Nothing is too elevated to escape his satiric eye. Tollefson spends his thirties in the comfortable, undemanding manager’s job. The station’s business manager, his cleaning lady, and a librarian girlfriend make these years of his life devoid of crisis, suffering, or surprise. He visits his family in Lake Wobegon twice a year.
Tollefson becomes restive as his fortieth birthday looms. His placid life becomes more complicated when his lawyer friend Howard persuades him to invest in a farm that will be made into a...
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