As a Canadian having grown up in a pre-internet era, I was not particularly familiar with Garrison Keillor prior to this book. I am fairly certain my first exposure to him was the lead up to the A Prairie Home Companion movie, which I thought was great despite the presence of Lindsay Lohan. This collection of stories is from the actual radio show, and it was kind of nice to have an understanding of how these would have sounded in Keillor’s voice.
The monologues are about the residents of Lake Wobegon, a small town in Minnesota that seem to live very isolated, intertwined lives dominated by church society and the weather – in that way, it reminds me of classic books such as Anne of Green Gables, strangely. Some of the characters can be found in several of the stories and there are some family connections scattered in as well to provide a clear sense of interconnectedness. This sense is an important background as many of the plots centre around the residents leaving town, and sometimes returning. Sometimes the residents are fleeing, sometimes escaping, and occasionally just going on vacation, but that is the other link throughout the stories.
I enjoyed the book overall, but a few of the stories were especially good – some were quite funny, and some were rather wistful and sad. “David and Agnes, A Romance” is my favorite story in the collection, about one character’s father falling hopelessly in love with his neighbor’s wife and leaving home and family behind to make a new life. His son finds love letters after his father’s death, in a trunk that is shipped to him after not having seen his father for 40 years. One letter begins with “Dear Agnes, something has taken hold of my heart…” It is sad and sweet and striking. Many of the stories are quite a bit sillier, but it was an easy read that was easy to pick up and put down.