New Lease on Life for a Hispanic Norwegian
Bland, Archie, The Independent (London, England)
Liberty By Garrison Keillor FABER & FABER Pounds 16.99 (267pp) Pounds 15.29 (free p&p) from 0870 079 8897
When a book about human failure is solely populated by an amiable cast, or what Liberty's flyleaf refers to as "good, loving people who drive each other crazy", it's commonplace to praise a writer for his generous attitude to his characters. That's a reasonable way of viewing the world Garrison Keillor has created in his Lake Wobegon stories, and this latest instalment is no exception. Only a heart of the coldest stone would not root for Liberty's Clint Bunsen - late- middle-aged auto mechanic, parade organiser and aspirational philanderer - from the first page.
There is another response, though: to readers not fully paid-up members of the Keillor fanclub, all this good humour can begin to seem just the littlest bit suffocating. As we follow the Wobegonian cast of ill-tempered but loveable eccentrics from front porch to motel room in the build-up to the town's Fourth of July parade, which will be Clint's last in charge and which acts as the book's climactic set-piece, it occasionally becomes infuriating not to be permitted to find even one straightforwardly dislikeable. Blanket compassion is just as pat a response to such a rich tapestry of irascibility and intolerance as a kneejerk rush to judgment.
Partly, that monotony is relieved by Clint himself, who, as an unapologetic Republican with little time for the sort of neighbourly warmth Keillor implicitly advocates, acts as a useful pressure valve. …