Wobegon Boy by Garrison Keillor 
Reviewed by Steve Rudd


“I have a responsible job and pay my taxes and keep my lawn mowed, but because I dare to be an individual, people whisper about me behind my back. Why is life like this?”

This epic novel is an absolute masterpiece that is drama-driven and hugely poignant. It follows a man called John Tollefson as he bumbles through his life over a pronounced period of time, with the novel beginning in the American Midwest before re-locating to New York City when the character feels drawn to the metropolis for a variety of reasons.

The grand, Legends Of The Fall-fetched scope is breathtaking, with much of the drama transpiring in the face of the death of John’s father, the novel intimately focusing on how he deals with the grief whilst trying to get his own life back on track after such an immense loss.

“If you don’t show the people you love that you love them, then what’s the point?”

As with most novels that deal directly – and unflinchingly – with the issue of mortality, there is a chance that the story might seem a little depressing to some people, but ultimately this is a novel that is somehow a life-enhancing experience since Garrison Keillor is such a skillful writer when it comes to dealing with raw human emotions.

Almost every sentence is poised with a profound sense of graceful poetry, and those readers who have experienced the death of a loved one will surely find a great deal of comfort and consolation as a result of reading this. The drama might be slow-moving and uneventful (save for the aforementioned death in the family), but from start to finish Wobegon Boy is fantastically thought-provoking, fuelled by humility, modesty, and good old fashioned tenderness.

“Time is a timeless concept that has led mankind badly astray, especially as we record age, which we do from the time of birth, and yet it is not elapsed time that really concerns us, but time remaining, and that is something that we cannot know.

And so we should not concern ourselves with time, except as we must arrange meetings or journeys by public conveyance.”

Above all else, this is a bold novel that teaches you to cherish your family and friends (and to take nothing at all for granted) as though the author’s life depended on conveying such important matters of fact. My best advice, then, is to read and respond…

“Mistakes make better artists of all of us as we weave new patterns in the fabric of our lives – and you better believe it.”


(First published by Faber in 1997)

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