With “Lake Wobegon Days” and “Leaving Home” Garrison Keillor took readers to the fictional town of Lake Wobegon, Minnesota, giving us memorable characters, some witty observations and some good natured humor. Those two novels are among my favorite books and I enjoy Keillor’s monologues about “the little town that time forgot and the decades cannot improve.”But in his last two Lake Wobegon novels, Keillor has the guy who could have been voted class clown to having a dark, meaner streak to his humor and observations–and the books have suffered as a result.
“Liberty” is the latest example of Keillor gone horribly wrong, going for sardonic and sarcastic instead of his usual witty and warm storytelling style.
“Liberty” centers on Clint Bunsen, turning 60 and in charge of the annual Fourth of July parade. Clint has been married for years but thanks to the Internet has met a younger woman who claims to be psychic and played Miss Liberty in the parade last year. He’s having an affair, being run off the leadership of his committee and wondering just what happened to his life and feeling unfulfilled. All of this could lead to some interesting observations on life, marriage and the nature of love but instead it’s all told in such a sardonic style that you’re left not caring about any of these characters. It feels almost like we’ve wandered into a parallel universe Lake Wobegon story where people look and act about the same, but there is something fundamentally wrong at the core.
There are some funny moments in the story, but this novel isn’t your typical Keillor Lake Wobegon novel. It’s more in vein of “WLT” and some of his other short essays and while those are enjoyable it’s not what I expect or want from a Lake Wobegon story.
The last two Lake Wobegon books have left me disappointed with Keillor, wondering if he’s tiring of his fictional town and maybe if it wouldn’t be better to leave fans the fond memories of him from “Lake Wobegon Days” instead of more books like “Liberty” or “Pontoon.”