(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Happy to Be Here is subtitled Stories and Comic Pieces. The original version contains twenty-nine selections and is divided into five parts. An expanded edition appeared the next year. Most of the selections can be classified as short stories, although some are parodies of other genres or brief comic sketches. Most are humorous, although a few are mood pieces that scarcely rely upon humor at all. The book’s title story, which originally appeared in The New Yorker under the title “Found Paradise,” is a monologue by a writer who has left the city for the dubious paradise of a Minnesota farm. It is an example of the polarity found in so much of Keillor’s work: the narrator’s being tugged at simultaneously by the charm—and often the absurdity as well—of rural and small-town life on one hand and the glamour of the city on the other.

The reader meets quite a gallery of characters: The title character in “Jack Schmidt, Arts Administrator” is a private eye who has turned to grantsmanship on behalf of such clients as the Minnesota Anti-Dance Ensemble (they do not believe in performance). Don of “Don: The True Story of a Young Person” is the leader of Trash, a punk-rock band; Trash becomes famous—or notorious—for eating live chickens during its act. Slim of “The Slim Graves Show” presides over a country and western radio program that evolves into a singing soap opera, with the listening audience voting for its favorite member of the love triangle.

In “Friendly Neighbor,” Walter “Dad” Benson is the star of a curious radio show on which the fictional Benson family listens to another show, piped in from an adjoining studio. The show within the show is a dramatization of the family life of the Muellers, equally fictional. Mr. Mueller’s indiscretion at Christmastime, 1958, shocks the...

(The entire section is 760 words.)