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Joy Alexander

Summa Wobegonia

Lake Wobegon confronts postmodernity.

John Tollefson left home 20 years ago and is beginning to suspect that was a mistake. Having broken through the "40" barrier, he enters a state of midlife questioning, accentuated by hassles at his work as manager of a public-radio station, financial instability resulting from a problematic investment, and uncertainties about the long-term prospects of his relationship with a woman with whom he is smitten.

So he makes two trips home: first, to escape the temptation to infidelity while his lover is in Denmark, and then for his father's funeral. His hometown restores his sense of values and stimulates reflection on mortality. There is no shortage of deaths for him to meditate on, from the sudden death of his father on the basement stairs holding a bag of frozen peas, to Richard Hansen's fatal crash after a truck accidentally spills a load of bananas onto the road in front of him, or Jim Tuomey's murder in a muddy farmyard in the middle of the night, wearing only a paper hospital gown.

All this high drama makes for good comedy, because John's hometown is Lake Wobegon, Garrison Keillor's fictional creation that represents the moral center of the American Midwest. It has been ten years since the last annals of life in Lake Wobegon were published. Lake Wobegon Days (1985) outlined the history of the town, describing its citizens and their exploits. Leaving Home (1987) gathered tales of how the strong women, good-looking men, and above-average children filled their quiet weeks in the Minnesota backwater. Now Wobegon Boy combines the concerns of both these books by zooming in on John Tollefson, who appeared as an awkward adolescent in the first novel.

Despite being a 300-hundred-page sprawl with oral roots, Wobegon Boy hangs together. In fact, it works even for those who are not devotees of Lake Wobegon. For the aficionado, there are walk-on appearances by familiar friends, hilarious one-liners, and the requisite tall tales. Still, our comprehensively unheroic hero complains, ...

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