Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Review: Garrison Keillor - The Lake Wobegon Virus

The Lake Wobegon Virus: A Novel by Garrison Keillor

It sure is great when a writer can help readers like me get through a difficult subject with humor, and Garrison manages to do this with four to five out-loud laughs per page. Since I am reviewing this for a literary magazine, I will also mention that the poetry Garrison included in this slim volume about our second favorite small town in America, Lake Wobegon, is great fun. (Of course, everyone's most favorite small town is the one they happen to be holed up in during this crazy year called 2020).

Born to Raise Hell

I got sick of this old town,
No excitement to be found
Now everybody’s telling stories
How I trashed the lavatories
When I walked by the fire barn
I saw the box with the steel arm
I broke the glass, I rang the bell
I raised hell.

You can see my writing on the wall
In every lavatory stall.
Set off sirens during Mass,
Threw a rock through the stained glass.
I done my job very well
I was born to raise hell.

Other poets are mentioned and even quoted from. What a blast it was to attend a funeral and hear William Cullen Bryant brilliantly excerpted. 

You can't have a novel about a virus in 2020 without mentioning the President by name, and yes, even Donald J. Trump gets a mention in this book because - well, it's best if you read it yourself. His presence is another snorting-milk-(or beer)-through-your-nose moment that would take longer to tell you why it's funny than to simply let you read it yourself in context.  It all has to do with Johnny Rogers, a singing poet, who wrote immortal lines like:

Birches and a big elm tree,
On a porch just you and me.
Tulips all thick and sweet,
Lonely neighbors on the street.
The whistle of a southbound train,
Summer night, feels like rain.

The folks and I don’t belong.
Nobody knows us in this town.
Nobody needs us, that is clear.
So where do we go from here?
Crickets murmur in the grass
The trains go through and the hours pass.


You look at me like I was giving off an odor,
You got your daughter in the car and started up the motor
And you closed the windows and locked up the doors
And I thought to myself: Up yours.


Proud of Who I Am

My beer’s gone flat and I lost my hat
and I’m getting fat, she tells me.
It’s all that steak ’n’ burgers with bacon
that’s makin’ this great big belly.

An’ I walk with a gimp and I feel like a simp
and my willie’s gone limp and I’m stuck in
A lower gear and I’m out of beer
but I’m here so I’ll keep on truckin’.

True Americana poetry! 

There are literally about a dozen events happening on each page, and somehow all working together to visit every aspect of life on our planet in these approx 230 pages. For the readers here, who are also mostly writers, the best advice about the writing life is openly hidden in these pages, with our main character reminiscing about meeting F. Scott Fitzgerald. A wonderful & thoughtful scene - and I know I'll be looking at my own writing much differently every day thanks to this fortuitous meeting.

So there you have it - philosophy, humor, birth, death, sex, alcohol, dreams, and another Great American Novel from Garrison, who managed to sneak a micropoem into the mix:

I write these short lines
With fear in my heart that they
Will make a haiku


Click here to order your copy on-line ($24.29)

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