Monthly Archives: January 2015

Garrison Keillor, Pontoon: a Lake Wobegon Novel

2015-01-05 001Title: Pontoon: a Lake Woebegon Novel

Author: Garrison Keillor

Publication Information: New York, N.Y. : Viking/Penguin, 2007.

ISBN: 978-0-670-06356-7

Library of Congress Classification: PS3561.E3755

Library of Congress Subject Headings:
Lake Woebegon (Minn. : Fictitious place)–Fiction
Families–Fiction

Ah, Lake Woebegon.

I just happened to pick up this book used because I had forgotten my bag of goodies at home and was going to lunch alone, so I wanted to read something. Besides, the dust jacket is a map of Lake Woebegon.

I was introduced to Lake Woebegon from two cassettes of Keillor’s Halloween stories that he performed live. I rarely listen to the radio, so I don’t hear Keillor’s regular stories about Lake Woebegon. But I really liked the Halloween tapes–until my car’s tape deck ate one of them. (Still need to replace it on CD.)

This novel starts with the death of one of Woebegon’s oldest citizens, Evelyn Frances Powell, who dies peacefully in her bed at home.

Barbara, her overweight, alcoholic daughter, finds Evelyn the next day. Their relationship was strained, and Barbara just sits with the body for a time. She finds a letter addressed to her in which Evelyn states that she wants to be cremated, her ashes deposited in her bowling ball and then dropped into Lake Woebegon. Typically, this creates a problem for Barbara with her relatives.

Barbara (and Evelyn’s) story eventually becomes intertwined with that of the “commitment ceremony” (“it’s not a marriage”) of Debbie Detmer, one former resident who, at the age of 14, decided to turn nasty and selfish. Abandoning her parents, she moved to California where she eventually made millions on aromatherapy for the Hollywood elite’s pets. Her beau is expected to arrive the day before the ceremony.

In one of life’s bizarre twists, Barbara only starts to live after Evelyn’s death. She begins collecting the letters that her mother sent her from the places that she visited. Barbara discovers that her mother had an entire other life, one where she traveled extensively and had a boyfriend. It is through this process of discovery that Barbara becomes closer to her mother than she had ever been before.

Barbara learns from Evelyn”s letters that life really is too short to waste. She stops drinking and decides to give her mother the burial she wants–which coincidentally takes place on the beach at Lake Woebegon on the same day as Debbie Detmer’s “commitment ceremony.” This results in a real mess that Evelyn would have loved.

How can you not like the people of Lake Woebegon? Barbara becomes a better person by discovering her mother’s past and understanding who she was. Debbie, too, learns a lesson, that she hasn’t been a very nice person for a very long time, that and her arrival home saved her father’s life. (His bizarre behavior, attributed to a bump on the head by Debbie’s mother, was caused by diabetes that needed treatment and management.)

A very fun read. I finished it in a day.

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Joe Boland, You are Here: Stories

(2014-09-20 001)Title: You are Here: Stories

Cover Title: You are Here: Romville Stories

Author: Joe Boland

Publication Information: Homewood, IL: Ramsfield Press, 2013.

ISBN: 978-0-9838589-3-5

Library of Congress Classification: PS3602.O5263

Library of Congress Subject Headings:
Romville (Ct. : Fictitious place)–Fiction
Life–Fiction
Men–Fiction

First, let me say that the author is the brother of a good friend of mine, and I promised that I would review this anthology quite a while ago.

And this is what it is: a collection of short stories. Normally I read (and review) novels; I rarely read short stories. Romville, Connecticut, is the fictitious town where the stories take place; sometimes the everyday meets The Twilight Zone there.

Most of the protagonists are down-on-their-luck types. In This Story, a crooked cop causes a fellow officer to get shot in the face. (“I watched him shamble down the hall. Dave Dooley, last of the good guys. So what if he was queer?”) The cop is later murdered, which leads his crooked partner to solve the case. Alf, the protagonist in Well She Killed Me, takes as his lover one of his best friends’ spouses. He claims to have always loved her, but she does not return the feeling. Her husband is terminally ill, and she has children. Where the World Goes When the World Goes Away (You are Here) is a take on the Oedipus myth. Al’s woman has been in chemotherapy but dies of cancer. He sees “King Death” driving down the street on occasion with someone who died two years before. Al needs to talk to him …

Ah, teenage angst—again. Charlie looks back on his life at the age of seventeen in Division Street (Boxboy in Zion). Another teenager love story is Roaring Girl. This teenager’s girl Friday needs his help when she finds out she’s pregnant—and being Catholics, abortions are a definite no-no.

My Life Up Until Now is sad but interesting. This is the longest story in the anthology. Dominic, a young man, recollects his childhood of mistreatment, living in the caretaker’s cottage on an estate. His father abandoned Dominic when he was a boy. His mother calls him Dummy and the estate owner doesn’t like him. Secrets are slowly uncovered–with consequences.

Dreamy is the most disturbing. We are introduced to a psychopath who falls in love with a teenager whose mother is dying and she has a younger brother. The protagonist is already married, of course. This is one character that elicits no sympathy.

The stories are very well-written, and I liked some of the characters, but my taste in fiction is not short stories and (right now) mysteries. Nonetheless, there is a mixture of stories here on the human condition–with some supernatural elements.