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Just in time for the Fourth of July, a firecracker of a Lake Wobegon novel from bestselling author and radio storyteller Garrison Keillor

Published to wide and enthusiastic acclaim, Liberty is Garrison Keillor's most ribald Lake Wobegon novel yet, set in a spectacular Fourth of July celebration amid marching bands and circus wagons drawn by teams of Percherons. The Chairman of the Fourth, Clint Bunsen, is in the midst of an identity crisis brought on by a DNA test just as he ...

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Liberty: A Novel of Lake Wobegon

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Just in time for the Fourth of July, a firecracker of a Lake Wobegon novel from bestselling author and radio storyteller Garrison Keillor

Published to wide and enthusiastic acclaim, Liberty is Garrison Keillor's most ribald Lake Wobegon novel yet, set in a spectacular Fourth of July celebration amid marching bands and circus wagons drawn by teams of Percherons. The Chairman of the Fourth, Clint Bunsen, is in the midst of an identity crisis brought on by a DNA test just as he turns sixty, and he finds solace in the arms of Angelica Pflame, the young beauty who marched as Liberty in last year's parade. Should he remain in Lake Wobegon with his stoical wife Irene or fly to California with Angelica? Liberty is Keillor at his knowing, deadpan, raconteur best.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Until now, people in Lake Wobegon thought of Clint Bunsen as the friendly neighbor who jump-starts their cars in freezing weather or the guy who works hard every year to put together the local Independence Day parade. Now, to the astonishment of his neighbors, he's become some kind of celebrity, or at least a celebrity in waiting. To local folk, Clint is a nice guy, but his plans to run for Congress seem plum loco; they know about his losing battles with vodka sours, his rocky marriage, and his embarrassing dalliances with the nubile young woman who plays the Statue of Liberty at the Fourth of July gala. (Some good townspeople even wonder if she's wearing anything under her Miss Liberty robe.) As this year's festivities approach, the national holiday seems to be taking on new meanings that old Tom Jefferson never dreamed of. Another delightful epic from Minnesota's favorite mythical community.
Carolyn See
A legitimate question arises here: Why has the publisher released this goofy little novel in September, rather than June, in time for the Fourth of July? Because, perhaps, this is actually a story about the coarseness, vulgarity and naivete of the U.S. presidential elections. Keillor's genius lies in the fact that after you finish reading this, you don't despair. He makes a strong case for the innate decency of the ocarina players, pig-manure vendors and even an odious governor and would-be member of Congress as they sweatily pursue their political ambitions.
—The Washington Post
David Kirby
Like Mark Twain, Keillor takes time to spell out details and, in so doing, convert the base metal of small-town tedium to the gold of comedy…Storywise, Liberty doesn't dazzle, nor is it intended to. As in most leading-up-to-the-event novels, the action moves in just one direction (an author can do only so much with flashbacks), and convention requires that there be lots of complications but that things turn out O.K. in the end, which is what happens. Liberty excels at portraiture, not plot.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

Clint Bunsen of Keillor's Lake Wobegon is planning his sixth Fourth of July celebration, but by the time it rolls around he's been booted from the planning committee; his wife, Irene, is chillier than ever; and his 60-something hormones have him lusting after the much-younger Angelica Pflame, whose "commando" performance as the Statue of Liberty in last year's parade is still a hot topic in the sleepy burg. In other words, everything's as you'd expect in a Keillor novel. There are quite a few subplots bubbling along quietly until everything erupts in a madcap denouement that combines elements of the Keystone Kops, I Love Lucy and Monty Python. Keillor's pacing and command of smalltown plot is impeccable; just at the moment when Clint's obsession with a genealogical discovery has become unbearable, the rug gets pulled out from under him. It's a Keillor novel that does what Keillor novels do: entertain and color nicely within the lines. (Sept.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Kirkus Reviews
One of the funnier Lake Wobegon novels might be the saddest as well. The farcical note on which the book opens gives no indication of the tragic undercurrent to come. In the latest from radio's A Prairie Home Companion tale-spinner Keillor (Pontoon, 2007, etc.), town mechanic Clint Bunsen has become too dictatorial in his role as chairman of Lake Wobegon's Fourth of July festivities, or so his hometown critics contend. Though his increasingly ambitious spectacles attracted the attention of CNN the previous year, some question the expense involved in luring attractions such as the Leaping Lutherans Parachute Team and the Fabulous Frisbee Dogs of Fergus Falls. "It is not easy trying to sell grandeur and pizzazz to a bunch of sour old pragmatists," grumbles Clint, particularly when so many citizens find their own roles in the celebration diminished. The very soul of Lake Wobegon is at stake, though the Minnesota hamlet is no longer a refuge from the outside world. Depression increasingly dissolves into a pharmaceutical haze, and teenage girls now dress like junior trollops. Ousted from his chairmanship, Clint takes stock of his life, discovering in the process that he made a huge mistake coming back to Minnesota from California after his discharge from the Army, and that his marriage to his hometown sweetheart was more from obligation than love, "[a]s if he were in a play written by someone who didn't like him." He finds the road not taken through the Internet, where he connects with a clairvoyant (who may also be a stripper) some 35 years younger than he. Their improbable affair throws Clint's life, his marriage and his hometown into turmoil, culminating in his last holiday as chairman. Itwould be easier to laugh if the novel didn't invest Clint with such pathos and his wife with such devotion. On the Fourth of July, will Clint choose liberty or responsibility?"Living in Lake Wobegon was like being stuck in a bad marriage," thinks Clint, leaving the rest of the novel to resolve whether the Bunsens' marriage is worse than most.
The Washington Post

“. . . abounds with good-humored satire, lyrical evocations of Keillor's beloved Midwestern community and characters as believable as your next-door neighbors.”
—The Washington Post
USA Today

“roars to a climactic finale.”
—USA Today
From the Publisher

“. . . laugh-out-loud hilarious and deeply touching . . . Listeners will love this visit to Lake Wobegon, especially as performed by America’s master storyteller.”
The Barnes & Noble Review
Had she not become a writer, it is easy to imagine Marilynne Robinson might have been a theologian instead. Or, perhaps it is fair to say that she is both. Throughout her concise body of work, Robinson has mined the traditions of American spiritual literature, harkening back to an earlier cultural landscape where religion, and American Protestantism in particular, didn't carry with it its current political animus -- the evangelical's fervor versus the ironist's disdain. Robinson, in her essay collection The Death of Adam, has been blunt about her interest in restoring the legacy of Calvinism and about the family as its site of restoration. There is, throughout her prose, a heightened sensitivity to the possibility of grace, and of human connection as its own kind of redemption. "Imagine that someone failed and disgraced came back to his family," she writes in her essay "Family," "and they grieved with him, and took his sadness upon themselves, and sat down together to ponder the deep mysteries of human life. This is more human and more beautiful, I propose, even if it yields no dulling of pain, no patching of injuries." In a way, Home is this imagining -- a novel no less nuanced, no less morally conflicted for the current of devotion that forms its center.

Home takes its place alongside Robinson's 2004 novel Gilead. Less its sequel than its counterpart, it tells the concurrent story, set in 1956, of Reverend Robert Boughton, best friend to Gilead's narrator, John Ames. Where Gilead was a self-reckoning in the guise of an epistolary novel -- it takes the form of a letter to Ames's young son -- Home is a structurally more traditional, simmering novel about the fragility, and endurance, of familial bonds. Here, Ames recedes into the background as Robinson shifts her focus to Boughton's wayward son Jack, who has returned home after a 20-year absence just as his father's health begins to fall into an irreparable decline. Jack will be familiar to readers of Gilead; in that novel, he played Ames's moral foil, the man whose presence reveals the blind spots in the reverend's seemingly boundless capacity for grace. Also returned to the family homestead is Jack's younger sister Glory, who has come to nurse the ailing Boughton and, more painfully, to seek refuge from a failed engagement. The coincidence of their homecomings gives rise to an unlikely friendship between the two siblings; Glory, with her preternatural sensitivity, proves the only person able to draw out Jack, whose guarded manner and sardonic evasions do little to conceal the ravages of his alcoholism and troubled childhood.

Robinson's nonfiction tends to offer safe harbor for some of history's scorned souls: figures like John Brown, John Calvin, and Karl Marx, whose legacies, she feels, have done them wrong. Though hardly a figure of historic import, Jack Boughton has his place here, too -- he is a man who, after Ames's fraught indictment over the course of Gilead, would seem to need his own literary rehabilitation. In Ames's portrait, Jack "doesn't have the look of a man who has made good use of himself," whereas for Glory this very wastedness is a spur to compassion, however wary:

Twenty years was long enough to make a stranger of someone she had known far better than this brother of hers, and here he was in her kitchen, pale and ill at ease and in no state to receive the kindness prepared for him, awaiting him, even then wilting and congealing into the worst he could have meant by the word "lunch." And what an ugly word that was anyway.

Like Robinson, her characters are attuned to the latent cruelties of language. The Boughton household is one in which emotional openness must compensate for verbal withholding. Even more than Housekeeping and Gilead, Home is a novel that operates by elision (perhaps because, unlike the two prior works, Home is written in the third person). This desultory quality is as much a result of Robinson's delicately tender prose as it is the inwardness of her characters. Glory, whose perspective largely governs the narrative, is circumspect about her own past. While the specifics of her fiancé's betrayal are never quite laid out in full, her homecoming nonetheless marks a stark counterpoint to the life she had imagined: "She had dreamed of a real home for herself and the babies, and the fiancé, a home very different from this good and blessed and fustian and oppressive tabernacle of Boughton probity and kind intent."

Kindness is invoked by the Boughton family with an almost incantatory repetition -- Jack, in particular, acknowledges his sister's gestures of care as a way to close out conversation. "Thanks, Glory. That's kind," Jack will say, releasing her from any attempt to absolve the sins of his younger days just as the dialogue begins to touch upon the wrongdoings of his past. This is not to say Jack is insincere -- quite the contrary, as Robinson is a master of authorial empathy -- but that his family's forgiveness is as much a source of pain as it is a relief. Jack seems incapable of believing himself worthy of the unconditional love his sister and father, still devout Presbyterians where his own religious upbringing has failed him, offer so unabashedly.

Home is, in many regards, flesh on the skeletal plot of Gilead. Where Gilead looked backward into the Midwest's abolitionist past, Home tends to linger in the present. Again setting her novel on the cusp of the social upheavals of the 1960s, Robinson this time pulls the politics of the age into a more ready backdrop. As we know from Gilead (but Glory and Reverend Boughton do not), Jack's common-law wife, Della, from whom he has separated under pressure from her family and the force of his own dissipation, is black. The incursion of a television into the household brings the simmering conflict between father and son -- a difference in worldview and temperament without any tangible cause -- to a head. When Jack grows indignant over a news report about what can only be Autherine Lucy's expulsion from the University of Alabama in that year, the reverend's best attempt at diplomacy is to remark, "I have nothing against the colored people. I do think they're going to need to improve themselves, though, if they want to be accepted." As she has so often over the course of her work, Robinson appears to be again offering a subtle jab at the failure of contemporary Protestantism to make good on the progressive legacy of its abolitionist forebears.

Home is not in any strict sense a political novel, but one that takes place unavoidably in a world whose complexity is beginning to outstrip what the Boughtons' Presbyterian upbringing has prepared them to accommodate. Jack and Glory, bonded together by the failures of their respective pasts, share a sense of "the gradual catastrophe" of entry into the broader world. Robinson puts forth her own question: "What does it mean to come home?" For both the Boughton children, there is no easy answer. Their return to Gilead, to a life and time rich in the solace of forgiveness and grace, is as likely to reopen old wounds as it is to prove a source of healing. But this is what Robinson understands so well: the warmth of her prose becomes a form of communion with the characters she has created, an enactment of the mercy she would have them show one another. Hers is a vision more human, and more beautiful, for her willingness to take their sadnesses upon herself and to grieve with them. --Amelia Atlas

Amelia Atlas's reviews have appeared in the New York Sun, 02138, and the Harvard Book Review.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780641981968
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 9/16/2008
  • Series: Lake Wobegon Series
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Garrison Keillor

GARRISON KEILLOR is America’s favorite storyteller. For more than 35 years, as the host of A Prairie Home Companion, he has captivated millions of listeners with his weekly News from Lake Wobegon monologues. A Prairie Home Companion is heard on hundreds of public radio stations, as well as America One, the Armed Forces Networks, Sirius Satellite Radio, and via a live audio webcast. 
Keillor is also the author of several books and a frequent contributor to national publications including Time, The New Yorker, and National Geographic, in addition to writing his own syndicated column. He has been awarded a National Humanities Medal from the National Endowment of the Humanities. When not touring, he resides in St. Paul, Minnesota.


Garrison Keillor is the author of thirteen books, including Lake Wobegon Summer 1956, Wobegon Boy, and Lake Wobegon Days. From 1999-2001, Keillor wrote a column "Dear Mr. Blue: Advice for Lovers and Writers" on Keillor's popular Saturday-night public radio show, A Prairie Home Companion, is in its twenty-seventh season. He lives in St. Paul with his wife and daughter.

Author biography courtesy of Penguin Group (USA).

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    1. Also Known As:
      Gary Edward Keillor (real name)
      Garrison Keillor
    2. Hometown:
      St. Paul, Minnesota
    1. Date of Birth:
      August 7, 1942
    2. Place of Birth:
      Anoka, Minnesota
    1. Education:
      B.A., University of Minnesota, 1966

Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing 1 – 6 of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 22, 2009

    Liberty/ New death of a salesman

    Old Garrison has a style almost all of his own. (I actually know someone quite like him) Garrison, known in Prairie Home Companion, both the radio show and the Movie, plus the books Lake Wobegon, and Home Grown Democrat, spins a story, while enchanting, but also pointedly shown the foibles of mankind. Liberty, while always giving us the comical idiosyncrsies of man, shows us the body blows of having to do what we must and never getting to live out our dreams. While willie Loman worked as a salesman, and should have be a carperter. The lead of Liberty worked as a mechanic and put together the 4th of July Parade, only to get little recognition, while he wished he were in another place working on his art. Does our lead excape or does he end up dying in his, less then happy live. That would spoil the story. Buy it and read it.

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