Executive Times






2008 Book Reviews


Liberty by Garrison Keillor








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Garrison Keillor’s latest Lake Wobegon novel, Liberty, has fewer laughs than earlier ones, but continues to capture the challenges and fun of small town living. Protagonist Clint Bunson faces midlife challenges roughly. He’s getting older, his marriage has new challenges, and he’s getting bounced off as leader of his favorite town activity: the Fourth of July committee. He’s also found out that he may not be the American he thought he was: a lab reported that he may be more than half Hispanic. Instead of more liberty as he ages, Clint feels more constrained. Here’s an excerpt, from the end of Chapter 3, “Ingratitude,” pp. 25-27:


"Let's not start cutting corners on standards a few months before the parade," said Clint. "You just create confusion. If you want to go back to how it used to be when anybody was in the parade who wanted to be, you can do that next year."

"I liked that old parade," said Mr. Hoppe. "Remember? We used to go around twice, so people who watched it the first time around could be in it the second time. And vice-versa. It was very sociable."

Ingrid said she thought that sounded wonderful.

"Take it from me, it wasn't," said Clint. "It was a lot of people milling around in the street and people on the sidewalk watching them do it."

"A lot of people have told me how much they miss the old parade," said Diener.

"Fine. You want that, I'll resign effective July 5, you can do what you want." And he stood up and walked down the hall to the men's room.

The next week Viola's minutes read:

BUNSEN announced that, effective July 5, he will resign as Chair. TORS moved to accept his resignation and to express the Committee's appreciation for his service. Approved unanimously.

What? Resigned? Not on your life. Okay, he had occasionally complained to the Old Regulars about the aggravations, but he had never considered resigning. Daddy had been Chairman of the Fourth of July back in 1965 when the tornado struck. His quick action getting people indoors under cover in the minute after the first bowling ball struck, before the other thirty-five rained down, was credited with saving lives. Daddy was, in fact, the Delivery Man of Delivery Day. He loved the Fourth and Clint loved his dad. The thought of giving up the Fourth was painful. But here Viola Tors had apparently ousted him in the minutes, printed in the Herald Star.

He said nothing. He thought of calling her and telling her off but decided to be cool. Ignore it. At the next meeting she was sitting in his place.

"Are you sitting there, Viola?" he asked.

"Did you want to sit here?" she said, accusingly.

"I don't care where I sit. It isn't important."

"Then why make an issue of it?"

So he sat down in her old place. She called the meeting to order. When she called for old business, he said, "I see by the minutes of the last meeting that I turned in my resignation. Which comes as a surprise to me. But if that's what all of you want, fine. It's been a wonderful experience working with all of you and maybe it's time I turned it over to someone else. I don't want to but if that's what you want, okay by me."

He expected Mr. Hoppe or Father Wilmer to rise to his de­fense, but no. A great cloud of silence filled the room. Quiet breathing. A foot tapping.

"I clearly understood that you resigned," said Viola. "You said so and you got up and left the room."

"I went to the restroom."

"Well, whatever. We all understood that you were resigning." "If that's what you want, just say so."

"Well, it's hard to undo what's been done," said Viola. "Personally my only interest is the Fourth of July. I want to see it done right. That's the bottom line." She went on to enumerate his sins without referring to him personally or looking him in the eye- the wounded Knutes, the weeping Sextette, the people who loved Cowpie Bingo, the dog owners, etc., etc.- and her frizzy hair shook and her skinny fist popped the table. Viola had thrown tantrums as a child and now she was in the grip of another one.

“So you want me to resign?" he said.

“That's how we voted," she said. "It was unanimous."

Nobody said a word. An awkward few seconds. Father Wilmer l­ooked thoughtfully up at the ceiling and Mr. Hoppe stared at the table and Mr. Diener scratched his nose as if about to poke into a nostril and do some excavating. Clint thought maybe he should reminisce about his dad and the old days, make everyone smile, spread oil on troubled waters. What he wanted to say was, After a few months of Viola, you are going to miss me a lot. But you won’t get me back because I am seriously thinking about running for Congress, unbelievable as that may seem to you. I am about 65 percent decided. I may announce on the Fourth. I plan to win the election and when I do, I am out of here and you are going to wish you hadn't done this. And then Viola cleared her throat and said, "Any other old business?" and that was that. The moment was over. Six years as chairman. Done. He was deposed because he had to pee. Evidently they were as sick of him as he was of them. He hoped there would not be a recognition ceremony after the parade and the presentation of some big chunk of Lucite for meritorious service. He guessed not.


Those who live in small towns will recognize many of the character types that Keillor presents in Liberty. The rest of us will know these individual from other group settings. In presenting the comedy of life in this way, Keillor leads us to laugh at ourselves and at the constraints that we create for ourselves.


Steve Hopkins, November 20, 2008



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The recommendation rating for this book appeared

 in the December 2008 issue of Executive Times


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