Lake Wobegon Summer 1956 by Garrison Keillor

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Lake Wobegon Summer 1956 Summary

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Like Wobegon Boy, this novel is written in the first person. The first two-thirds of the narrative are told in the present, a highly unusual tense for long fiction. In chapter 18, “In the Press Box,” the narrative switches to past tense—for no apparent reason other than stylistic experimentation—and continues in that tense until the end of the novel. The narrator is Gary, Keillor’s birthname. Gary is fourteen in 1956, as was Keillor, and Gary dreams of becoming a writer, as Keillor did. It is, at first, difficult to avoid reading the novel as slightly disguised autobiography. However, upon further consideration, it could be the tale of any sensitive adolescent with artistic ambitions, growing up in a small town where such ambitions are not highly regarded.

The principal characters are Gary, his parents, his older sister, his Aunt Eva, his cousin Kate, and Grandpa and Jesus in Heaven. Daddy is head cashier at the bank but does not like dealing with people—they are so utterly ignorant of sound fiscal practices. Mother reads the newspaper, devoid of interest in politics, sports, and the lives of Hollywood stars but giddy with delight when reading about a juicy murder. The older sister is a constant pain in Gary’s side. She is both self-righteous and perceptive; she knows that inside Foxx’s Book of Martyrs, Gary is really reading High School Orgies. Aunt Eva has never married and has always lived on the family farm. When Daddy went into the Army in 1945, Mother and her three children went to live on the farm with her. (Gary has an older brother who is away at the university during the entire narrative.)

Gary is Aunt Eva’s favorite. Kate is Gary’s daring, sophisticated seventeen-year-old cousin. Grandpa and Jesus, in Gary’s imagination, are looking down from Heaven and commenting on his behavior; Grandpa is usually shocked and disappointed, while Jesus is consistently neutral.

Gary has two obsessions. The first, sex and all bodily functions, is typical of fourteen-year-old boys. The second, writing, is not. The family belongs to the Sanctified Brethren, the People of the Word, a very strict, and tiny, fundamentalist sect. They would not approve of Gary’s sexual fantasies. He continues to read his erotic magazines, despite the fact that his sister, much more under the influence of the Sanctified Brethren than he, threatens constantly to expose his sinful behavior. Kate is nothing like his sister. Though not an attractive girl, she is an appealing free spirit; she embodies womanhood to Gary. She gives him his first kiss after they have been...

(The entire section is 654 words.)