by Garrison Keillor
What sets Keillor apart from other American humorists, besides the fact that he survived a fundamentalist upbringing, is that he seems to be a genuinely nice person, so acutely observant yet so uncynical. (Calvin Trillin, another Midwesterner, fell out of the same tree.) Keillor may have learned everything he needed to know in Sunday school, but he sure kept his eyes and ears peeled the rest of the week.
The fact is, as this bridge mix of stories, poems, humor pieces and divertissements indicates, Keillor sees all and forgives all. He’s still a deft trend-basher. Take “The People vs. Jim,” in which a man is prosecuted to the full extent of the law for writing list articles for life-style magazines, including “Ten Ways to Lose Four Pounds in Two Days” and “Six Meaner Dogs Than You Ever Saw Before.” Or “A Little Help,” which posits Hollywood celebrities helping common people with their problems, just because they’re beautiful human beings: “Meryl Streep and Diane Keaton devote countless offscreen hours to women suffering from poor self-image; Dustin Hoffman is working to get men more involved in early child care; Clint Eastwood is on the phone every night with men who have lost their individuality in large corporations…a source close to Eastwood says…’Many of these men relate to Eastwood, and a few minutes on the phone with him can really turn things around. It’s nothing that he tells them necessarily, but just the fact that he’s there, listening, sharing feelings, responding as one man to another.’ ” It’s these short pieces that are the most enjoyable and accomplished part of the book, most of which comes from Keillor’s New Yorker writings. Reading Keillor, a native Minnesotan, on New York City is like poring over a herbivore’s impressions of an abattoir. Keillor writes that it has been his ambition to write for the New Yorker ever since he was a teenager and first read the magazine, “in the periodicals room at the Minneapolis Public Library, surrounded by ruined old men collapsed in the big oak chairs.” The wit and grace of We Are Still Married shows how he made his youthful dream come true: nicely. (Viking, $18.95)