January 22, 2008

Pontoon is the latest Lake Wobegon book by Garrison Keillor. I won’t be giving anything away when I tell you that the most winning character in the book, probably in the entire town, dies in the first sentence. Fortunately, it is a calm death. No unnecessary violence. No real arguing. Death comes. Death leaves. And a small town is even smaller.

Losing the best character in the opening chapter doesn’t seem like a promising way to start, but she’s not really gone, she’s just out of sight. We have her letters. And memories, memories, memories of all who (thought they) knew her. It’s enough.

I received Pontoon as a Christmas gift, amid a pile of books, and quickly set to reading. Before long, I was done. Yet another group of Lake W. stories tucked away about those people that I have never met, and – to tell the truth here – would probably never choose to meet, but who have managed to exert a curious fascination over me for two decades and more.

I just can’t help myself. I look forward to learning who in the fictional town “that time forgot” is on the way up, who is on the way down, who is coming back, and who is moving out, even though I know that these motions, up, down, in, out, have always, and will always, repeat themselves endlessly. The trials and tribulations of the Lake Wobegonians (Wobegonites?) are as steady and reliable as the Earth turning on its axis and yet they are never boring.

I’ll let you in on a secret – there’s a second Lake W. book in my Christmas stack. I bought it for myself, used, at Multnomah Library’s Title Wave used bookstore for a pittance. I’m saving it for some time when imagination and joy have run dry. Then I’ll haul it out and start picking once again over the lives of these “friends” of mine. And smile.


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