Garrison Keillor | Critical Review by Lisa Zeidner

This literature criticism consists of approximately 3 pages of analysis & critique of Garrison Keillor.
This section contains 711 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Lisa Zeidner

Critical Review by Lisa Zeidner

SOURCE: "Why Is Marriage Like the Electoral College?" in The New York Times Book Review, December 12, 1993, p. 13.

In the following review, Zeidner calls Keillor's The Book of Guys "an endearingly acerbic collection of 22 stories about men with women trouble."

With his sixth book, Garrison Keillor spices up his act for those who might be tiring of the "Prairie Home Companion" routine that made him famous. The Book of Guys is an endearingly acerbic collection of 22 stories about men with women trouble. Though Mr. Keillor's woeful guys hail from an impressive range of times and places, from the Old West to ancient Rome, they're all middle-class, middle-aged and miserable.

"We're selling out our manhood, bit by bit," a speaker complains at the convention of a men's movement group called the Sons of Bernie. Don Giovanni, a two-bit piano player at a bar catering to hard hats on their lunch breaks, offers a similarly grim view. "A woman takes over a man's life and turns it to her own ends," the Don warns. "She heaps up his plate with stones, she fills his bed with anxiety, she destroys his peace so that he hardly remembers it."

Women are dour and demanding. They're bad cooks. They drag you to pretentious plays and strong-arm you into heavy talks about The Relationship. Even on a romantic cruise, the whiny wife in "Marooned" is hunched over a magazine quiz called "How Lousy Is Your Marriage: A 10-Minute Quiz That Could Help You Improve It," whereas every sane man in the universe realizes that "marriage is like the Electoral College: it works O.K. if you don't think about it."

And this is marital bliss before the screaming kids! No wonder that Lonesome Shorty, a grumpy cowboy with a bad back, has so much trouble settling down. No wonder that the amiable radio show announcer in "Roy Bradley, Boy Broadcaster" defends his bachelorhood so vigilantly: "Everyone else in radio talks with the voice of marriage and duty. I speak with the voice of one who eats his dinner at an odd time out of white cardboard containers while standing at the kitchen counter and reading the sports page."

Mr. Keillor is hardly trying to copyright this view of the battle between the sexes. In fact, his comedy depends on the very silliness of the setup: "a boy's constant struggle to maintain his buoyancy" against his ball and chain. That domesticity is disappointing—at least in men's minds—is the given. Then Mr. Keillor begins to riff on the premise, stretching it to its absurd conclusion—as in "The Mid-Life Crisis of Dionysus," wherein "the god of wine and whoopee," demoted at age 50 to chairman of wine by his dad, Zeus, waxes nostalgic for wild revelry ("He missed those nymphs, doggone it").

Many of the pieces in The Book of Guys are less stories than skits. The fable of the country mouse and the city mouse—in which a mild-mannered fellow abused by life in a major metropolis returns to, say, South Dakota—gets more air time than it can bear. Dependent as the slighter sketches are on Mr. Keillor's self-mocking voice, they're more effective in performance than on the page (buy the companion audiocassette, or see him live in a 17-city "Show of Guys Tour").

The most substantial tales aren't really about manhood at all, but about the arbitrariness and absurdity of modern success, especially in show business. In "The Chuck Show of Television" and "Al Denny"—at once the most autobiographically revealing stories and the most wildly imaginative ones—Mr. Keillor is at his subversive best. He drags his heroes through the mud of contemporary culture and teaches them the essential tongue-in-cheek Lake Wobegon lesson, as he formulated it in the book We Are Still Married: "not to imagine we are someone but to be content being who we are."

Once these Mr. Nice Guys get their comeuppance, they can relax and do the thing that guys like best—picking their noses and making jokes about it. The Book of Guys also contains a dozen-odd quips about flatulence, in all of its death-defying variety. Mr. Keillor may be performing a public service here, helping to pinpoint for sociologists the single major difference between men and women: the limit of their tolerance for witticisms about wind.

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This section contains 711 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Lisa Zeidner
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