OK. I know that a few weeks ago, after the Garrison Keillor event at Ohio University, I said that would be the last time I’d talk about good ol’ GK in awhile. I have been on a Garrison Keillor binge lately, and I apologize. I know that some people may not enjoy his brand of humor (last night’s episode of The Cleveland Show featured Cleveland at a Keillor stand-up event, with Cleveland muttering “I’ve never hated white people more”), so again with the apologies.
But Love Me, another book by Keillor, has been sitting on my shelf for ages and I thought it due time to crack its spine once and for all. This one is less autobiographical than Lake Wobegon Days, with Keillor turning to write actual fiction, rather than the pseudo-autobiographical, folksy account of life in Lake Wobegon, Minnesota (which is then roughly translated to a standing monologue on The Prarie Home Companion every week). Instead, Love Me follows the life of Larry Wyler, a writer from Minneapolis who makes it big with a ridiculously overwritten novel. Feeling like he’s been inducted into the literary hall of fame, Wyler leaves his wife in Minnesota and moves to New York, where he accepts a position at The New Yorker. Once there, he comes down with a serious case of writer’s block, and turns to writing an advice column as Mr. Blue. Hijinks ensue.
Sooooo maybe it’s still a bit autobiographical (the whole writer, living in Minnesota, working for The New Yorker thing), but I will say this: Love Me is a fine piece of satire. As someone who enjoys The New Yorker, writing and the literary life, Keillor pokes fun at everything we hold dear. I laughed for the same reason I laugh at so many jokes in You’ve Got Mail—for writers and book geeks, jokes about writers and publishing are funny. A self-deprecating Midwesterner who sticks out like a sore thumb makes for an excellent tour guide, even if he keeps tumbling into bed with beautiful women (I didn’t know the Minnesota accent was such a turn-on).
However, I can see where Love Me might not be as popular among an audience who are a) not writers, and b) not already enamored by Garrison Keillor. I mean, Larry Wyler reveals the entire plot in the first chapter, for goodness sake. There’s not much incentive to turn each page, unless you’re that excited about the next joke. This isn’t to say that jokes aren’t funny (they are!); they’re merely quieter, more subtle, a mix of sarcasm and earnestness.
I did, however, love what Keillor had to say about love and marriage. Larry’s marriage is a constant theme throughout the book, serving as the counterpart to all his misguided ideals and selfish ambitions. His wife is preoccupied with her own work (as a serious, liberal activist working to improve the lives of crazy old people), and forgives Larry for a lot of bad decisions. They stay together, though, because they continue to love each other. In a complicated world, it’s as simple as that. One of my favorite lines is at the end of the book, when Larry is trying to woo his wife yet again:
…this woman is all women, and when you chose her, you became Jay Gatsby and Robert Jordan and Price Andrew and Raskolnikov and Ishmael and embarked on a life of imagination, which adultery cruelly violates, and breaks up the music in your head, and also it’s a hell of a lot of work to scout up something inferior to what you and she can create at home. You have roamed the Western world in search of the perfect tuna sandwich; your wife makes a good tuna sandwich; your powers of imagination are what make it perfect.
So while Love Me likes to take its stabs at the literary life, its true heart lies in the power of marriage, love, and stable relationships. So many people write to Mr. Blue asking for help in love, and the answer, Keillor seems to be arguing, lies at home. Shelve your discontent, because sometimes you’re searching in all the wrong places. And when you find someone to love, hold onto them tight. They may become (but probably already are) the best part of your life.