Anyone who is likely to pick up this book knows that Garrison Keillor, after thirteen years on the air, has left A PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION and moved to Denmark. That is the leave-taking that lies behind the title of this collection, which gathers thirty-six of Keillor’s inimitable Lake Wobegon monologues (slightly altered in printed form), concluding with the one he delivered on his farewell show, on June 13, 1987. The collection is prefaced by “A Letter from Copenhagen,” dated July 3, 1987, in which Keillor looks back over his years with A PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION and meditates on memory and the storytelling impulse.
The best way to read these stories is slowly, one or two at a time. The range of experiences and emotions that they embrace is wide indeed, belying the condescending descriptions of Keillor as a master of nostalgic reverie. He is that, certainly, but much more as well. As the collection progresses, a theme emerges: “Anything could happen.” Many of the stories are driven by this awareness of the unpredictability of human life. The vision is not rose-colored--the twists and turns may be tragic, or ridiculous, or simply pathetic--but ultimately Keillor is moved by wonder at the sheer richness and mystery of existence.
That note is first sounded in the introductory letter, where Keillor declares that, after being “addicted to cigarettes” for twenty-four years, he stopped smoking--and rediscovered a “vast realm of smells that were lost all those years.” Those smells, “creamed peas and onions, wood smells, dirt smells,” stand for a whole world to which we can become casually indifferent, not knowing what we are missing.