©2007 Garrison Keillor; (P)2007 HighBridge Company
"There's plenty of fun to be had with the well-timed deadpans and homespun wit." (Publishers Weekly)
I love reading and listening to books, especially fantasy, science fiction, children's, historical, and classics.
Garrison Keillor's Pontoon (2007) is a novel whose chapters read like a linked set of short stories focusing primarily on the death of 82-year old, life-embracing Evelyn Peterson and its effect on her surviving family and friends and secondarily on the return to Lake Woebegone of "that tramp" Debbie Detmer for her quasi-wedding "commitment" ceremony. Keillor tells his tale via the memories, letters, back-stories, and current concerns, etc. of a variety of characters, including Evelyn, her lover Raoul, her daughter Barbara (the protagonist of the novel), Barbara's university sophomore son Kyle, Debbie, and Debbie's father.
Lake Woebegone is a largely Lutheran and muchly Norwegian Minnesota small town, and Keillor depicts both its negative and positive sides: it's "a culture of fussy women and silent angry men and horrified children," but "It's peaceful here. . . you can be just who you are." Keillor enjoys lists (varieties of booze being dumped gurgling down a sink drain, garage sale items spread out on card tables, and so on). He loves people, especially quirky ones, humorously, ruthlessly, and sympathetically exposing their foibles, fears, aspirations, delusions, disasters, and memories. His riffs on his fictional characters make them feel real. He makes the idiosyncratic natural and the typical interesting. He expresses much seasoned wisdom on families, marriage, religion, and life.
Keillor's tone, established by the first line of the novel ("Evelyn was an insomniac, so when they say she died in her sleep you have to question that"), is wry. And his humor can sting, as when Barbara contemplates Branson, Missouri, "a geezer resort, where the face-lifted stars of yesteryear go on singing their hits, like demented robots, eyes glazed, a sort of mortuary of pop music." But usually his targets deserve a little zinging, like Barbara's old classmate Marcy, "one of those mean women who developed hugging tendencies late in life, as if that made up for everything." Keillor's humor may attain an oddly affecting numinous counterpoint, as in his description of a statue in a grotto: "A dog lay at the end of his chain, his chin on the ground, pawing at the grass in front of a bathtub half-buried vertically in the ground, the half above ground forming a little grotto for a statue of the Blessed Virgin, arms outstretched, pity in her blank eyes. He had pawed a bare spot at her feet. A dog's homage." And he is a master of the savory, apt line, as when he mentions a radio baseball announcer's voice sounding "like a string of taffy, stretching" on a day marked by "A heavy air of Sunday boredom. Benign, indifferent, dozy."
Perhaps the climax, involving an aging pontoon boat, a pair of giant fiberglass pedal-powered duck decoys, a hot air balloon, a speed boat, a homemade parasail, a bowling ball on a chain, a naked young man, a malodorous dog with a wet, cold nose, and 24 tipsy agnostic Danish Lutheran pastors, is a stretch too far and a touch too contrived, and perhaps Keillor indulges in a wee bit too much eccentric minor character history (as when he has a parachuting Elvis impersonator recount his life story, beginning with killing his best friend in a youthful hunting accident and climaxing with being grabbed by the first President Bush's bodyguards), but overall his style and vision are pleasurable to imbibe, and he is capable of intensely moving revelation.
Some words about the audiobook read by Keillor. His reading is idiosyncratic, savory, appealing. He pauses where pauses wouldn't ordinarily be: "her old suede [pause] jacket" and "For he shall feed his flock [pause] like a shepherd." Or, less often, he speeds through places where pauses ordinarily would be: "Barbara is somewhat tightly wound, not the person you'd choose for the job of finding dead people. [no pause] She shrieked, she clutched at her mother's hand, shrank back from the body, knocked a lamp off the bedside table, yelped, ran out of the room into the kitchen where she tried to collect herself, and took a deep breath and thought 'homicide' and looked around for signs of violence." He drawls downward the last syllables of the last words in phrases, not unlike a deeper-voiced, bucolic Bukowski: "a hubcap for an ASHtraaaaay." Keillor can purr along in his own rhythm (sometimes independent of his own commas and periods) because he is the Writer reading his Work and he knows what he's doing and it works. Short piano pieces aptly and pleasingly close each chapter.
I enjoyed this, the first book by Keillor I have read, and recommend it to people who like humorous and moving tales of eccentric, flawed, and sympathetic denizens of American small towns.
Who is accomplished enough to claim a critic's eye? Who is as masterful as those who have written for the rest of us to read? When I was a young man, I believed I knew what was better than something else. Now, I am in awe of everything. Now I realize that the older I get, the less I know.
This book is for all of us over 50 types, who have treasured Mr. Keillor's anecdotal stories on a Prairie Home Companion, about the fictional town of Lake Wobegon. But, this is the adult version of those broadcast stories. Here he deals with death, family alienation, sexual dysfunction and a host of private, personal insights into the lives of his characters. His descriptions of his characters made this reader laugh out loud in the early chapters. But, as the chapters rolled by, punctuated with nostalgic piano interludes, Mr. Keillor's slow, breathy narration starts to wear. There is no great architecture of fiction here. This is not a miracle or morality tale. Rather, it is a sweet and somber collection of provincial characters who are shown to endure life's inanities and ironies. And there is no one who knows these Midwesterners better than Mr. Keillor. It is funny and sad to listen to this, with him doing his own narration as he has on the radio for so many years. I'm glad I spent the time with him. He is like having a friend who is melancholy and removed, giving him a clear view of the big picture in a little town. Thank you, Mr. Keillor and thank God I am not a Lutheran.
Rating scale: 5=Loved it, 4=Liked it, 3=Ok, 2=Disappointed, 1=Hated it. I look for well developed characters, compelling stories.
Is there such a category as “geezer-lit”? If not, this book could start a new literary genre as I expect only those over the age of 50 have sufficient life experience to appreciate the humor and insights that make this wonderful tale hilarious, poignant, wise and affectionate all at the same time.
Introduced to Evelyn on the last evening of her life, enjoying a somewhat raucous dinner with her best friends, I was laughing so hard I had to pee. Then she was gone and her daughter Barbara had to pick up the pieces and plan Evelyn’s unique memorial according to instructions left in a wonderful letter that actually begins Barbara’s awakening (and ours too if we have the ears to hear).
There are other story lines that are outrageous and revealing in their own ways, but it’s Evelyn’s spirit winding through the tale that keeps some grounded, some inspired, and often both at the same time. As one rapidly reaching geezer-hood, I enjoyed the connection to family and community, and the message of living life to its fullest on your own terms. Life has no dress rehearsal and once the curtain comes down the play is over and regrets are wasted time. That message was Evelyn’s best gift to Barbara.
GK’s reading has his usual quirky pauses and breaths, and it took at bit to get used to. But really, there is no other voice that can tell a Lake Wobegon tale. It was a perfect match.
Retired CFO, Army wife, Mom of five, Grandma of six, two sons who served in combat, love to read books that reflect my values and faith, love mysteries, historical, military stories, and books that don't waste my time . . . if it doesn't have an ending that was worth the wait, I'm not a happy camper.
Believe it or not, this is my first Lake Wobegon . . . the voice of Garrison Keillor is a sing song melody that is soothing, steadfast, and funny. The characters of the small town are brought to life in ways I wouldn't think possible . . . and they grow on you . . . and you are reminded not to take yourself or your problems too seriously.
Addicted to books, both print and audio-.
I tried reading one of Garrison Keillor's early novels and it didn't hold my interest. Hearing him read this one was lovely; no surprise that I find his work stronger in audio, since he is first and foremost a storyteller. It is like listening to a very long, in-depth News From Lake Wobegon, and it held my interest all the way through. It has everything his monologues do; humor, gentle satire, familiar small-town characters and former townspeople who got out, but it's all developed to a much greater degree, and it works. I'll listen to another one sometime!
Listening to Garrison Keillor is always a treat. The story is a bit goofy--essentially an elongated version of "The news from Lake Wobegon." However, his story telling never gets old!
I'm a retired woman living in a coastal rural area on the mid-north coast of NSW. There's a lot of work to do around the property and listening to a good book while doing it is just 'the best'.
Garrison Keillor's narration style is initially disconcerting, but soon become so much part of the whole experience that it's hard to imagine the story being narrated by anyone else. Pontoon is full of wonderfully fanciful characters becoming involved in increasingly bizarre situations. Yet there is so much truth in the characters and the vignettes Keillor relates that he must go about every day with a pen and notebook, recording his observations of real people. A lovely, warm, gentle listen that I will revisit in the future.
Too long gone, two wrongs right, to a brighter day and Tupelo night . . .
I've enjoyed Garrison Keillor from way back in his days of Prairie Home Companion. His dry wit and ability to weave a wandering tale used to thrill me every Saturday night as I'd dial in PBS to catch his show.
Oddly enough, I'd never bought one of his books. So, I anticipated this one would be a treat for me.
The opening chapters were about what I'd expect from Garrison. He laid down a firm foundation upon which to weave. I began to eagerly anticipate where the story may go.
By the middle of the book, I was thinking: Okay, maybe the passing years have left an over-romanticized memory of Keilllor's melancholy Lake Wobegon yarns.
The ending of this book left me laughing out loud. It was so funny, I had to listen to the end a second time.
In short, it's a great little story with a brief snooze in the middle. If you buy it, don't give up. The ending is worth the price (and the time).
As mentioned by some other reviews, the “publisher’s summary” written above is highly inaccurate.
This story revolves around a funeral, a wedding, and the idea of living life to its fullest; a story full of “a bowling ball-urn, a hot-air balloon, giant duck decoys, a flying Elvis, and, most importantly, Wally's pontoon boat. As the wedding of the decade approaches (accompanied by wheels of imported cheese and giant shrimp shish kebabs), the good-loving people of Lake Wobegon do what they do best: drive each other slightly crazy.” The Whippets still play baseball; the Chatterbox Café and Ralph’s Pretty Good Grocery is still open; the awful Magendanz family is still awful; and the local police still don’t have much use for their new antiterrorism equipment.
This was my first book by Keillor, and since it seems that everyone says that this wasn’t his best work, I can only imagine how great his other books must be. When I first started listening, the monotone of Keillor voice bothered me but it really grew on me over time because it became obvious that it was the perfect voice for this story. I really enjoyed this bizarre tale and the ending is awesome.
Nobody can paint a picture like Garrison Keillor. He talks and you can see what he's talking about - and, mostly, it's hilarious. Lutheran pastors in a boat? A naked boy parasailing? Just too much fun. And, most gratifying for some of us - not a perfect, skinny, beautiful female in the whole book!! I loved it!!
"Worth it in the end"
I could listen to Garrison Keillor's voice all day - he reads his books wonderfully and no-one else could do it as well. His descriptions are vivid and bring to life all the characters and incidents of Lake Wobegon. Some of it was very poignant and bits of it were excruciatingly frustrating as you wait for him to get to the climax of a story and he goes off on yet another long description about something else. If you can put up with this tendency to side track, stick with it as its worth it in the end.
"A more succinct Pontoon might not have sunk"
Looking to examine the Lake Wobegon effect I start from having seen my family become addicted to the weekly ?News From Lake Wobegone podcast? and hugely enjoyed the Audible offering which reflects Garrison Keillor?s weekly twenty minute monologues. Here again, unfortunately, I feel that the punchy, pithy, featherlight whimsy that is Lake Wobegon has become prey to ambition hence the four star rather than five stars. When'all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average,' all the novels are going to comfortably reach into that upper quartile ? but as with the film adaptation I was left with something of a Lutheran rapture feeling simply: ?It could have been worse.?
Huge praise indeed, in its bachelor Norwegian way and if this review intrigues you then its time you ventured to Lake Wobegon.
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