Picks and Pans Review: Wobegon Boy

updated 12/08/1997 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/08/1997 01:00AM

by Garrison Keillor

If Garrison Keillor could bottle his charm and sell it as aftershave, it would transform the northern Midwest: All those cheerless Lutherans would suddenly discover the joy of being loved. Author of nine books and creator of A Prairie Home Companion, Keillor is adored by listeners and readers alike, and rightly so—his tender satire on small-town Minnesota life is a pitch-perfect marvel. The radio bard has mastered the art of flattering mockery—wit that bites but leaves no tooth mark.

Wobegon Boy is the low-key story of John Tollefson, namesake of a great-grandfather who left Norway for Lake Wobegon. Reluctant heir to the town's somber worldview, John moves to Upstate New York to manage a public radio station and falls in love with a beautiful historian. His hometown travels with him, whispering the wisdom of the meek: "Life is complicated, so think small." The novel is a treat, especially in the early going before Keillor gets distracted by the demands of plot and the pressure to make up yet another whimsical anecdote. He clutters the ending with gothic improbabilities—ghosts and guns and Siamese twins—but his sly sweetness wins out. Call it eau de Wo'. (Viking, $24.95)

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