Lake Wobegon Days

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Though many of these sketches will be familiar to those who listen to Keillor’s National Public Radio program, “A Prairie Home Companion,” where “News from Lake Wobegon” is a regular feature, much of the book will be new.

The town’s history ranges from the original French explorers who were driven away by mosquitoes in about 1835 to Keillor’s most recent conversation with the telephone operator who has managed to keep control of the system and, therefore, of the local news, despite the conversion to dial phones.

The book is divided into thematic sections. “Home” establishes the narrator’s love/hate relationship with his native town. “New Albion” and “Forbears” contain a history of the founding and settling of Lake Wobegon, a microcosmic history of rural America. “Sumus Quod Sumus” and “Protestant” detail the oddities which are normal in the town, such as the mistake which left Lake Wobegon and Mist County off the state map, and the religious fundamentalism of the narrator’s family and of the town as a whole.

In the center of the volume is a group of seasonal chapters beginning with “Summer.” These contain anecdotes about the town’s customary seasonal activities. Between “Summer” and “Fall” is a chapter on “School.” Between “Winter” and “Spring” is “News,” the chapter which captures most strongly the narrow side of Lake Wobegon. Scattered across the page bottoms of almost the whole chapter are the “95 Theses 95,” a document of condemnation by a young man who believes that Lake Wobegon has ruined his life, mainly by teaching him to distrust pleasure and beauty and to feel guilty about desiring and experiencing them.

The final chapter, “Revival,” sums up the love/hate theme of the book, contrasting the quiet surface of Lake Wobegon with the open desire for romance of an aspiring young writer and the sublimated desires for adventure in the older people, desires which surface in revival meetings and in fantasies of disaster.