“Last year’s Lake Wobegon Fourth of July (Delivery Day) was glory itself, sunny and not too hot, flags flying, drummers drumming, scores of high-stepping horses, smart marching units in perfect cadence, and Ben Franklin, Sacajawea, Ulysses S. Grant, Babe Ruth, Amelia Earhart, and Elvis marching arm in arm along with Miss Liberty majestic in seven-pointed crown and wielding her torch like a big fat baton, plus the Leaping Lutherans parachute team, the Betsy Ross Blanket Toss, a battery of cannons belching flame boomboomboom from the crest of Adams Hill and Paul Revere galloping into town to cry out the news that these States are now Independent, God Bless Us All, and Much Much More, all in all a beautiful occasion in honor of America, and the only sour note was that so few in lake Wobegon appreciated how truly glorious it all was, since Wobegonians as a rule consider it bad luck to be joyful, no matter Scripture might say on the subject, and so in the swirl of color and music and costumes and grandeur you could hear people complain about the high cost of gasoline and shortage of rainfall and what in God’s Name were they going to do with the leftover food.”
So might begin another installment of Garrison Keillor‘s “News from Lake Wobegon” on A Prairie Home Companion. And it is, sort of. Only darker. Liberty (Viking, 2008) is the latest of Keillor’s Lake Wobegon novels. It weaves together the familiar themes and characters of small-town life, centering on Lake Wobegon’s annual Fourth of July celebration and its main character’s delayed mid-life crisis. Unlike the radio monologues, Liberty includes a fair amount of sex, or at least musing about it, and gets into despair, infidelity, depression, and the darker side of life in a small town, Midwestern or otherwise.
In the end, Liberty is not a humorous book so much as a wry tale about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Life is fleeting, liberty is an illusion, and the pursuit of happiness can be more trouble than it’s worth. A very Wobegonian book in its outlook.
Liberty was one of three books I got for Christmast this year, and the first one I picked up to read. Next up is Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin.