Popular National Public Radio host and literary tale-spinner Garrison Keillor touches down Thursday to read from his new novel, Lake Wobegon: Summer 1956, the semiautobiographical tale of 14-year-old Gary, who discovers his own powerful urges to write and pursue women at about the same time. Keillor is also plugging In Search of Lake Wobegon, a book of photographs of rural Stearns County, Minn.
RFT: Do you think all boys of a certain age are hormonally polarized sex fiends?
Keillor: The narrator/hero of my novel, Gary, 14, has a keen and healthy curiosity about women and their mysteries, their scent, the buoyancy of their hair, their swanlike necks, everything about them. If he were 14 today, among lissome girls with their skimpy tank tops and their darling bellybuttons, he'd be weak with pleasure, but he was 14 back in 1956, when girls wore heavier clothing and brassieres like bulletproof armor, so he had to resort to his imagination, which, thankfully for my novel, is pretty ripe and rich.
Does In Search of Lake Wobegon threaten to replace our imagination's visions of Lake Wobegon with reality?
For me, Lake Wobegon gets more real with the passing years and the accumulation of recalled detail. I can't speak for the listeners. My aim always has been to get the town right, and in this book there is a certain rightness about the boy, the porch, the parents, the cheesy magazine with the ads for love cologne, the doo-wop group and so forth. These details serve to spur the imagination, not to deter it.
How are you feeling these days?
I'm feeling good. Had heart surgery July 25 to repair a bad valve, what they call mitral regurgitation, which sounds fairly disgusting. They take a circular saw and split your sternum, and a guy you've met once, briefly, snips around in your heart, and you wake up eight hours later, grateful for morphine. I've enjoyed convalescence for all it's worth -- five weeks' worth, to be exact -- and it makes me feel that I was cut out to be a bum and sit in a doorway with a paper sack.
Any plans for the retirement of A Prairie Home Companion, or do you see it continuing indefinitely?
You shut your mouth, son. When I'm ready to retire, I will just suddenly vanish -- no gold watch, no plaque, no big fatuous speeches, no commemorative album -- and I will resurface as the author of edgy, angst-ridden and very violent noir novels under the name Chiron Berman. No small town, no Lutherans, no church suppers, just lean silent men in sharkskin suits and the old P.I. with the soup-stained tie who outfoxes them all.