(Masterpieces of American Literature)

John Tollefson, Johnny of Lake Wobegon Days, is the first-person narrator of Wobegon Boy. John first leaves Lake Wobegon to attend the university in Minneapolis. There he carries on a ten-year affair with a young woman named Korlyss, “an extremely nice person” but “of a mournful disposition.” John finally goes east, not triumphantly as in his boyhood dreams but in a desperate flight from Korlyss, who has begun to insist upon marriage. He finds a job as manager of WSJO, a radio station on the campus of St. James College in Red Cliff, New York, on Cayuga Lake.

St. James is an Episcopalian institution with fine architecture, groomed lawns, and high tuition. Its admission requirements, on the other hand, are low; the dean of students refers to St. James as higher education for “the idiot children of the rich.” John falls into an undemanding relationship with Jean, a librarian, who never mentions marriage. He begins attending Episcopal Mass, celebrated by Mother Sally, whose every homily represents the New Testament as a feminist document.

One Sunday at Mass he meets Howard Freeman, who has decided to add a spiritual dimension to his life. Howard is an enthusiastic but unreliable entrepreneur. Together, John and Howard launch a business venture that John envisions as a farm restaurant, serving fresh vegetables grown on the premises. They hire Steve, a contractor who wears a long blond ponytail, running shoes, and a Grateful Dead T-shirt. Predictably, the enterprise goes bust. Yet Howard’s shortcomings are overshadowed by the fact that he has a beautiful sister, Alida, who will become the love of John’s life. Alida is four years younger than John and has lived the glamorous life for which he has always longed. She lives in New York...

(The entire section is 730 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Sources for Further Study

Booklist. XCIV, October 1, 1997, p. 276.

Entertainment Weekly. October 31, 1997, p. 101.

Library Journal. CXXII, December, 1997, p. 153.

National Review. XLIX, December 8, 1997, p. 50.

The New York Times Book Review. CII, October 26, 1997, p. 14.

People Weekly. XLVII, December 8, 1997, p. 43.

Publishers Weekly. CCXLIV, September 29, 1997, p. 66.

USA Today. November 26, 1997, p. D13.

The Washington Post Book World. XXVII, November 30, 1997, p. 1.