As a youth, Garrison Keillor dreamed of writing for the New Yorker, but he found fame by telling radio audiences about the fictional Lake Wobegon and its inhabitants. His dual yearnings for the sophistication of New York and the innocence of “the town that time forgot” create a division in his written work. He alternates between the material aimed at Lake Wobegon aficionados and the pieces that appeal to more urbane readers. After two collections and a novel of the latter type, in Wobegon Boy Keillor returns to the lake.
Wobegon Boy tells the story of Johnny Tollefson, whom readers have already met in two sections of Lake Wobegon Days. In that earlier book, Johnny is introduced in the section called “Summer.” He goes to register for college and is chagrined at being accompanied by beaming relatives eager to share his special day. In “Revival,” the last section of the book, he has completed his freshman year and returned to Lake Wobegon, where he is as uncomfortable with his parents as they are with him. Wobegon Boy is the story of the same character minus the teenage angst.
According to an old saw, “You can take the boy out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the boy.” Although Wobegon Boy is the story of John Tollefson’s life after leaving Lake Wobegon, it is clear that in many ways John has never left at all. The older he gets, the closer he gets to his birthplace, his birthright, his home.