“Evelyn was an insomniac so when they say she died in her sleep, you have to question that.” Thus begins Garrison Keillor’s PONTOON: A NOVEL OF LAKE WOBEGON. It continues in this vein, this voice, for 248 pages: unpredictable, laugh-out-loud funny, meandering but in an engaging way—the way a good friend tells you stories that make you cover your mouth so food particles won’t fly out and hit her in the face. Though not the first Lake Wobegon novel, it’s as good a place to start as any. I hadn’t read the prior book in the series and didn’t feel like I was missing anything.
I could tell you the plot, but the plot isn’t what drives this novel. It’s the characters and the voice and the hilarious bits, like this one involving Barbara, the daughter of the recently-passed Evelyn: “The man from Waite Park Cremation Service arrived, shortly after noon. Barbara had finished off the Kahlua. The phone rang and it was someone asking if she was satisfied with her current long-distance provider. ‘We’re thrilled,’ she said. ‘Couldn’t be happier.’”
Garrison Keillor is one of the best storytellers in the country, and this book, like many of his “Prairie Home Companion” yarns, is a pure delight. If you are still dodging ANNA KARENINA, try this instead.
PS—Keillor’s follow-up, LIBERTY, is also good, and it follows some of the characters forward. But if you can only read one, PONTOON feels slightly better crafted–more engaging from Page One.