I’d heard so much about Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion
radio show and even enjoyed it a few times, so when I found this well-known
book in a used bookstore, I bought it. The problem was that I couldn’t
get past the first page for a long time. Half of it was taken up by a meandering
footnoote, and I wasn’t sure whether to read that or the main text.
It was about a year later that I tried again, and found myself truly enjoying
the author’s wry humor and hyperbolic portrait of a small town. After he
got warmed up, that is. It was on page 8 in a footnote that he explained himself:
"I grew up among slow talkers, men in particular…when I got to Minneapolis,
where people took a Lake Wobegon comma to mean the end of the story, I
speak a whole sentence in company…" Now if he’d started off with
that footnote, I would have understood right off.
The truth is that this book about a town in Minnesota is often hilarious, but
Keillor’s rambling style, so well-suited for radio, really does seem almost
too conversational and unstructured for book form. Having grown up in small
Midwestern towns, I could relate to Lake Wobegon and its inhabitants—couldn’t
stop laughing through some of it. But there were many times when Keillor would
veer off subject and I’d wonder where he went.
And then there are the incredibly long footnotes. Like I said they contain
some of the funniest material—the whole book is worth reading just for
the sidesplitting 22-page footnote documenting the 95 Theses of a small town
graduate, which was ostensibly lost in the Lake Wobegon newspaper office for
years. But it can be cumbersome to read half of each page for twenty-some pages
at a stretch, then to go back and pick up the thread of the main story on the
top halves of those same pages before finally moving on past them. It’s
worthwhile, but takes a lot of concentration.