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Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page 47.
- Review Date: 2007-08-20
- Reviewer: Staff
K eillor's delightful latest addition to the Lake Wobegon series, set in the fictional Minnesota town known to legions of A Prairie Home Companion radio show fans, opens with a typically laconic musing: “Evelyn was an insomniac, so when they say she died in her sleep, you have to question that.” The author's storytelling skills come to the fore as he describes Evelyn Peterson, a sprightly 82-year-old whose secret life of romance and adventure is revealed after her death. Her daughter, Barbara, a please-everyone type with a fondness for chocolate liqueur, finds Evelyn dead in bed, and things snowball from there. Debbie Detmer, who made her fortune as an animal therapist for the rich and famous, is planning a grand commitment ceremony (on a pontoon boat in Lake Wobegon) to celebrate her relationship with a private jet time-share salesman. Meanwhile, Barbara plans to carry out her mother's wishes for a cremation ceremony involving a bowling ball filled with her ashes, and then there's the group of Danish Lutheran ministers stopping by Lake Wobegon on their tour of the U.S. Keillor's longtime fans may find some of the material familiar (he notes he's told this story “several hundred times... with many variations”), but there's plenty of fun to be had with the well-timed deadpans and homespun wit. (Sept.)
Folksy fun from radio's famous voice
If you have grown up anywhere near the radio, then it's likely you have heard the deep sonorous tones of Garrison Keillor on NPR's "A Prairie Home Companion." Or perhaps on "Writer's Almanac," every day at noon.
And since we've all heard that voice, it is a doubly difficult task for Keillor's written words to play in our heads in any other voicebut with Pontoon, his new Lake Wobegon novel, he succeeds. He tells the story from several different viewpoints, a difficult task in itself, but we are wrapped up in Evelyn, Barbara, Debbie and Kyle, as if poor Garrison never existed. Which is just as it should be.
In short, the story is a very event-filled week-in-the-life of some of the inhabitants of Lake Wobegon, Minnesota. Pontoon opens with the death of one of the town's most popular residents, Evelyn Peterson. The circumstances of her demise aren't unknown (she died in her sleep), but exactly what she was doing with the last several years of her lifewhich is revealed after her deathdefinitely is. It turns out she was having fun. Her daughter Barbara has an epiphany inspired by her mother's zest for life and quits drinking. She also makes plans to fulfill Evelyn's last wishes, which were to be cremated, placed in a bowling ball and dropped in the lake. Meanwhile, millionaire Debbie Detmer returns to town for her wedding, which is scheduled to take place on the pontoon of the title and includes such unlikely elements as a flying Elvis, a hot-air balloon and giant decoy ducks. Kyle, Barbara's son, returns for the bowling ball drop and has his own epiphany after a car accident on the way up from Minneapolis. Add in 24 renegade Lutheran ministers and a case of champagne, and you have yourself a pretty entertaining story.
Keillor has a way with a little turn of a phrase, and rifles through everyday experiences to find just that nugget that will make it true to all of us. What a wonderful little vacation.
Linda White is a writer, publicist and media escort in St. Paul, Minnesota, which is prime Keillor territory.