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Pontoon: A Novel of Lake Wobegon (Lake Wobegon Novels) Hardcover – September 11, 2007

4.2 out of 5 stars 106 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

K eillor's delightful latest addition to the Lake Wobegon series, set in the fictional Minnesota town known to legions of A Prairie Home Companion radio show fans, opens with a typically laconic musing: Evelyn was an insomniac, so when they say she died in her sleep, you have to question that. The author's storytelling skills come to the fore as he describes Evelyn Peterson, a sprightly 82-year-old whose secret life of romance and adventure is revealed after her death. Her daughter, Barbara, a please-everyone type with a fondness for chocolate liqueur, finds Evelyn dead in bed, and things snowball from there. Debbie Detmer, who made her fortune as an animal therapist for the rich and famous, is planning a grand commitment ceremony (on a pontoon boat in Lake Wobegon) to celebrate her relationship with a private jet time-share salesman. Meanwhile, Barbara plans to carry out her mother's wishes for a cremation ceremony involving a bowling ball filled with her ashes, and then there's the group of Danish Lutheran ministers stopping by Lake Wobegon on their tour of the U.S. Keillor's longtime fans may find some of the material familiar (he notes he's told this story several hundred times... with many variations), but there's plenty of fun to be had with the well-timed deadpans and homespun wit. (Sept.)
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From Booklist

When the angel of death came for Evelyn Peterson, she didn't know that Debbie Detmer would be back in Lake Wobegon for the first time in ages to be married, kinda, in a big lakeside ceremony on a pontoon boat with, among other things, a parachuting Elvis impersonator and a hot-air balloon—all on the day Evelyn's memorial, also at the lake, would be held. Of course, how could she know that? Nobody else in town knew Debbie was coming, except for her parents, and given how Walter's been since that fall in the bathroom, maybe only Mrs. D. could be said to have known. During the days 'twixt death and marriage, lots happens. Barbara, Evelyn's daughter, learns that her mother hadn't been visiting relatives on her many out-of-town jaunts; she'd been partying with Raoul, the man she should have married. Barbara's son Kyle decides to honor Grandma's wish to have her ashes deposited in the lake by dropping them while parasailing. Now consider the possibilities with faux Elvis, balloon, and Kyle fleeting over the lake simultaneously . . . It's just the capper to a hyperbusy slice of small-town life of the sort that Keillor regularly exploits so hilariously and affectingly, and the moral of which may be that we'd all best be humble. Only comedian of horrors Christopher Moore, in his tales of Pine Cove, California, rivals Keillor as a provincial farceur. Olson, Ray

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Product Details

  • Series: Lake Wobegon Novels
  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Viking (September 11, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670063568
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670063567
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.3 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (106 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #999,360 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Bundt Lust VINE VOICE on September 23, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Garrison Keillor, best known for his long-running radio saga A Prairie Home Companion, has created another memorable portrait of the Midwest in Pontoon. His fictitious farming town of Lake Wobegon, Minnesota is populated by Scandinavian descendants whose lives revolve around church services and gossip, not necessarily in that order. The town's two religious beacons are the Catholic parish of Our Lady of Perpetual Responsibility and the Lake Wobegon Lutheran Church. The residents are proud of their Scandinavian heritage, including the town statue of the Unknown Norwegian and omnipresent lutefisk at church functions.

I grew up listening to Garrison on A Prairie Home Companion and attempted (unsuccessfully) to watch the recent Robert Altman film adaptation, so when I saw Pontoon, I snapped it up. Part of my love affair with Lake Wobegon stems from my own immigrant background; my grandmother immigrated from Poland in 1913, and my youth was spent at Polish masses and social gatherings (in Polish, of course!) filled with pierogi and gossip, much like Lake Wobegonians (minus the lutefisk, thankfully). I also grew up in a small Midwest town, so I could appreciate Garrison's good-natured ribbing at the monotony of life in small towns.

Garrison's characters are exquisitely drawn, and you can easily imagine them to be your next-door neighbors, full of idiosyncrasies and hidden wisdom. In Pontoon, the central character is Evelyn, an octogenarian with a passion for life who enjoys shocking the quieter Wobegonians with her forward ideas. Evelyn's sudden death wreaks havoc on her family, particularly on her alcoholic daughter Barbara, since her scandalous final wish is to be cremated and dumped into Lake Wobegon in a green bowling ball.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
It's been about four years since the last Wobegone book, LAKE WOBEGONE SUMMER 1956. That one featured Gary, Keillor's alter ego. I didn't really like it until I heard excerpts from it in one of Keillor's Prairie Home Companion PBS specials. Suddenly, it got a whole lot better. The man has the best "radio" voice since Jean Shepherd.

I liked PONTOON a little bit better because these characters seem a whole lot more real. Evelyn Peterson is an 82-year-old Lutheran lady who dies at the beginning of the book. She had no time for funerals. She wants to be cremated, her ashes put in a bowling ball and thrown in a lake. She leaves a letter for daughter Barbara outlining her wishes. Barbara also discovers letters from Raoul, a lover she never knew her mother had. If you live in Minnesota you'll recognize Raoul. He's a moderator of a children's show that featured THE LITTLE RASCALS who sounds a whole lot like Clelland Card, creator of "Axel and his Dog."

The other featured character is Debbie Detmer, who had left Wobegone to make her fortune in Hollywood. She did, all right, but in a rather strange profession, aroma therapist to pets. This is just Keillor cracking wise. An aroma therapist to dogs is no stranger than tourists who visit the bathroom where Senator Craig was arrested.

Occasionally Keillor will throw in a poem or a song lyric that I would guess come from his show. "Oh the horses stood around with their feet upon the ground and who will wind my wristwatch when I'm gone? We feed the baby garlic so we can find him in the dark, and a girl's best friend is her mother" is a sample. He can also get down-right philosophical: "The trick is to not want it that much. Want it less. When you get to where you don't want it all, then you might get it.
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Format: Audio CD
Having at one time been a huge fan, I had pretty much declared myself completely finished with reading or listening to Garrison Keillor--done with hearing him in love with the sound of breathing through his nose on the Writer's Almanac, done with his increasingly indulgent weekend radio show (and the sycophantic and pretentious NPR listeners that praise it), and done with that horribly boring and eventless movie based on his work--when someone gave me this.

I listened to it, for lack of anything else to listen to on my morning drive, and I have to say: I liked it. It's good.

The characters, for the most part seem real and believable, the action is amusing, and the writing is clear and often funny.

"Pontoon" tells the antilinear story of a woman's death--of her life before it, of her family, of her neighbors, and it manages to entwine all of these lives into an amusing (if somewhat predictable and drawn-out and over-the-top) ending. It's touching and funny at the same time, and is, with one or two exceptions, a fairly accurate portrait of how small-town life can be.

As another entry in the Lake Wobegon canon, it's solid--not as good as "Lake Wobegon Days" or even "Wobegon Boy," but much better than say, "Leaving Home." On the audio version, Keillor does a good job of reading it, and I was grateful that some producer thought wisely enough to place the mic away from his wheezy nostrils. I mean, seriously, listen to the Writer's Almanac some morning; it sounds as if he's just finished running before every episode, or as if he just chugged a pan of grease. The guy's evidently in love with the sound of it, like a guitarist who likes to mic the sounds of his fingers squeaking down the frets. You can almost hear his nosehairs rustling.

Anyway. "Pontoon": a good book. And a good audio book.

Check it out.
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