October 14, 1985 12:00 PM

by Garrison Keillor

For those who listen to “A Prairie Home Companion” on American Public Radio, this book will be a feast. Some of the best dishes served up come of course from Ralph’s Pretty Good Grocery. Here is the whole history of Keillor’s mythical Minnesota town, from the time the first white person set foot there in 1835 or the next year. There is indeed a lot of murky stuff in Lake Wobegon’s past. A hilarious account of the founding of New Albion College tells of a snowstorm and a ferocious bear attack. Religion plays a big part in the community too. The narrator grows up a member of the Sanctified Brethren, but he was always jealous of the show put on by the Catholics. Immigrants from Norway are the butt of much of Keillor’s genial joshing, and he is an absolute master at recalling the pleasures and pain of boyhood and adolescence. The inflated, rambling style is that of the born storyteller: “When I was fifteen, a girl I wrote three poems for invited me to Christmas Eve so her parents could see that I wasn’t as bad as many people said, and after a big meatball supper and a long thoughtful period between her dad and me as she and her mom cleared the dishes when he asked what I intended to do with myself, we went to the ten o’clock candlelight service at Lake Wobegon Lutheran.” Keillor’s is an old-fashioned, marvelous talent, a national treasure perhaps, since droll, self-deprecating, down-home humor is in too short supply these days. As the author says, “Lake Wobegon, whatever its faults, is not dreary.” (Viking, $17.95)

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