It’s a shame when talented writers don’t live up to their stuff, but its even worse to pretend they’ve accomplished something great when the reader trusts they’re capable of so much more. That’s the case with WLT: A RADIO ROMANCE, a book about Ray and Roy Soderbjerg, two brothers who in 1926 found South Minneapolis radio station WLT (With Lettuce and Tomato) as a ploy to rescue their failing restaurant. Yes, the premise has promise, but the novel depends on the bizarre antics of the caricatures who run the radio show, and after a chapter or two the zaniness not only fails to charm, but grows tedious with a capital T.
For example, Keillor writes, “In the salad days of the Ogden, before WLT moved in, B had been the Longue des Artistes, a ritzy little bar where, in 1910, the insurance playboy Howell Helmsdorf drank gin fizzes with his mistress Donna Donaldson. One night her husband strode in, a derringer in his trembling hand, and shot Howell in the ear and hauled the weeping woman home. She went on to found the Poets League of Minneapolis and the Well Baby Clinic and the Finding Society, and Howell, his ear shot off, went to Texas and was never seen again, except perhaps by people in Texas.”
And so the novel goes, the rhythm of the writing as rapid as rifle fire, joke after joke shooting but missing its target because the emphasis focuses on the prowess of the shooter instead of on the requirements of his craft. Keillor can certainly write, but WLT: A RADIO ROMANCE reads like the result of a laborious contractual obligation.