Once upon a time, a long time ago, my parents and I listened to Garrison Keillor on the radio every Saturday night from 5 – 7 pm. There was music that wasn’t pop enough for me (but now my adult soul loves the music that was featured on A Prairie Home Companion), comedy sketches, and finally, around 6:30 every Saturday, News From Lake Wobegon. A place “where all the women are strong, the men are good looking, and the children are above average.” When we first moved into our current house, I even had a doormat that said that.
My parents didn’t often buy me books, maybe once a year a book or two paperbacks from the Scholastic flyer, so when my dad brought home the hardcover and brand new Lake Wobegon Days (Amazon) (AbeBooks) for me, I was without words. I devoured it and any other Lake Wobegon book that came along over the years. Even though I’m from Wisconsin, not Minnesota, I recognized the same sort of midwestern humor that I experienced with my family and friends, both in Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
In Lake Wobegon Virus (Amazon) (AbeBooks), Something is very wrong in Lake Wobegon. People are speaking their minds. A lot; some would say people are losing their minds. That sweet, quiet midwestern charm is gone. “The little town that time forgot, suddenly becoming the little town that misfortune fell in love with, where all the women are horrified, the men are bewildered, and the children are amused at the distress of their elders.” In short, they are losing their social inhibitions and in Lake Wobegon, that will never do.
The reason people are going off on political rants and waxing rhapsodic is not known for a while. Then, Elena, the hometown epidemiologist, discovers that all the people who were acting strangely had consumed unpasteurized cheese made by a Norwegian bachelor farmer, which makes people actually say what they think. And in Lake Wobegon, that’s just scandalous. Pastor Liz, the Bunsens, the Krebsbachs, all the people I grew up reading and listening about, were rather out of sorts throughout the book. It was so funny.
“And so the town headed into March, the month that God created to show people who don’t drink what a hangover is like.”
From the Publisher: “Meanwhile, a wealthy outsider is buying up farmland for a “Keep America Truckin’” Motorway and Amusement Park, estimated to draw 2.2 million visitors a year.” That can’t be good news for the quiet little town that time forgot, can it? Some in town think it’s time, some others are fiercely opposed.
Then, finally, the experts found the virus. The same virus might cause angry outbursts in some people and inappropriate affectations in others and irrational lecturers in someone else. And due to the peculiar properties, epidemiologists thought the virus was eradicated. Apparently Canadian turtles regurgitate their prey and save it for the winter, and that was the original cause of the virus.
Keillor’s prose is delightful, as usual. It was odd hearing beloved characters behave in a way that was so unlike themselves, but that was part of the humor. Keillor has a way of describing life in a small midwestern town with love and laughs. It was a nice trip down memory lane and I found myself laughing out loud a few times.
You don’t necessarily have to read any of the other Lake Wobegon books in order to appreciate Lake Wobegon Virus, but if you enjoy good old fashioned midwestern humor, I recommend it. And in this crazy pandemic-filled United States (especially right now in Wisconsin where I live), to read about an epidemic that’s so ridiculous and patently untrue was a balm. To get the full effect, I highly recommend the audio version of any Lake Wobegon book, read by Garrison Keillor himself, who has known and loved these characters for over 40 years.
Lake Wobegon Virus (Amazon) (AbeBooks) feels like a swan song for stories from the mythical town. With the wealthy outsider buying up land to build an amusement park and motorway, I can’t see how there would be a Lake Wobegon #12. I am, however, anxiously awaiting That Time of Year: A Minnesota Life, Garrison Keillor’s memoirs, which comes out on December 1, 2020.
For more reviews, visit www.bargain-sleuth.com
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