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

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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