Garrison Keillor | Critical Review by Bill Henderson

This literature criticism consists of approximately 3 pages of analysis & critique of Garrison Keillor.
This section contains 856 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Bill Henderson

Critical Review by Bill Henderson

SOURCE: "Ordinary Folks, Repulsive and Otherwise," in The New York Times Book Review, April 9, 1989, p. 13.

In the following review, Henderson states, "The worst I could probably say about the 11 poems and 61 prose pieces brought together in We Are Still Married … is that I liked some pieces better than others, but—and this is more than one can say for most such collections—I liked them all."

Garrison Keillor is the first author, poet, composer or singer to have ever caused me to drive off the road and stop the car in tears. A friend had sent me a tape that I played on the car stereo—a tape of Mr. Keillor singing a birthday song to his son, who had almost died at birth. It was a sentimental subject, but somehow the man captured it all—all the terror, the wonder, the joy of birth—and in that one brief song he turned me into a traffic menace.

Expect no distance or dispassion here. I admire Garrison Keillor. The worst I could probably say about the 11 poems and 61 prose pieces brought together in We Are Still Married (many previously published in The New Yorker) is that I liked some pieces better than others, but—and this is more than one can say for most such collections—I liked them all.

A few of my favorites: "Laying on Our Backs Looking at the Stars" is an essay about just that, a subject that in less capable hands might turn out sappy. Mr. Keillor brings it off, in passages like this: "Indoors, the news is second-hand, mostly bad, and even good people are drawn into a dreadful fascination with doom and demise … but here under heaven our spirits are immense, we are so blessed. The stars in the sky, my friends in the grass, my son asleep on my chest, his hands clutching my shirt."

"The Meaning of Life" might be the title of a C-minus sophomore work, but in two paragraphs this essay convinces, inspires and reminds us: "To know and to serve God, of course, is why we're here, a clear truth that, like the nose on your face, is near at hand and easily discernible but can make you dizzy if you try to focus on it hard…. Gentleness is everywhere in daily life, a sign that faith rules through ordinary things; through cooking, and small talk, through storytelling, making love, fishing …"

If you're searching for a more objective review of the author of this collection, look to his own "Letters From Jack," a file of letters from the owner of Jack's Auto Repair, one of the first sponsors—all of them fictitious—of "A Prairie Home Companion," Mr. Keillor's radio show. Here are a few of Jack's opinions: "I've advertised on the show for six years, and would have done better writing my phone number on barroom walls," he writes in one letter. And again, "You're honest (you never claimed to be good), and people listen to you thinking that if they get to know you real well, may be eventually they'll like you. Well, I've been listening for years and must admit that its appeal is sporadic." And, "Thirty minutes of a man speaking in a flat Midwestern voice about guilt, death, the Christian faith, and small-town life is not what people look for in a stage performance."

The fictions are typical Keillor, bittersweet tales of ordinary folks that remind us that nobody is ordinary. The title story chronicles the marital adventures of Willa and Earl, Minnesota residents who are invaded by a reporter for People magazine named Blair Hague. Blair lives with them and writes a piece convincing Willa that her marriage is a disaster and her husband "often personally repulsive." Willa becomes a celebrity. She does the talk show circuit, sells movie and book rights about the horrors of married life, is a New York cocktail party sensation—and returns home to Earl and her small town. No apologies asked, none given. Life resumes as before.

The other poems, opinions, stories, letters and whatnots in this collection ponder the meaning and nuance of yard sales, sneezes, Woodlawn Cemetery, the last surviving cigarette smokers, the solo sock, the old shower stall, the perils of celebrity, being nearsighted, growing up fundamentalist and traveling with teen-age children. And in these "ordinary things," the grace of Garrison Keillor shines through.

In his introduction, Mr. Keillor complains: "I grow old. Boys and girls in their thirties who compose essays on the majestic sorrows of aging—give me a break. I'm forty-six. Wait until you're forty-six and then tell me about it. I'll be sixty then. I grew up in a gentler, slower time. When Ike was President, Christmases were years apart, and now it's about five months from one to the next."

He can complain about that if he wants. But this reviewer (who is 47) hopes that Mr. Keillor is just entering the prime of his career, and is going to guide us through the perils and the foibles of the decades to come. The guy occupies the same place as Twain, Benchley and Thurber. I am glad he is with us.

(read more)

This section contains 856 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Bill Henderson
Follow Us on Facebook