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Love Me by Garrison Keillor

 

Rating: (Mildly Recommended)

 

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Ups and Downs

There are some chapters of Garrison Keillor’s new novel, Love Me, that are great. Unfortunately, there are two many chapters in-between that become tiring and tedious during the search for some good writing. Protagonist Larry Wyler writes a great debut novel and then leaves both wife and Minnesota to go to New York, to the pinnacle: The New Yorker, where he loses his muse, and can’t write worth a damn, while he yields to the temptations of the big city. It turns out that The New Yorker has been taken over by the mafia, and Larry is ordered to publish a lousy poem by a gangster. Meanwhile, Larry’s wife, Iris, remains in Minnesota, as a rock or normality and reason. At times, Love Me is hilarious. At other times, it’s wearying, Here’s an excerpt from early in the book (pp. 13-17):

On the night before the choir took off on our eastern tour, I took her to hear Doc Evans's Dixieland jazz band play in the courtyard of Walker Art Center, Iris in her white summer dress, me in my chinos and sport coat. We sat on the cool grass by a hedge and she glanced at my crotch and said, "There are holes in your pants." Which there were. You could see London and France. "You must've brushed against something with acid on it."

I ignored this and lit a cigarette. It was a perfect summer night in the North, a hot clarinet, a crowd of lovers in the dark, smoking, lying on the grass and on each other, engines revving, stoplights turning green all over town, every song about sex, none about wise career choices, all about kissing and feeling your heart go boom, and meanwhile the summer breeze is blowing through the holes in my pants, which definitely are getting bigger. We head back to her apartment and I take off the pants and we go to bed and make love. So sweet and true. And the next morning, we're on the bus heading for Madison, South Bend, Cleveland, Syracuse, and New York City. I'm sitting next to Iris and she dozes with her head on my shoulder. Everyone can look at us and see: They're a couple. They sleep together. Sex written all over us.

 

We were all pumped up for the tour. This was no rinky-dink thing, The Bobbsey Twins Sing Bach, this was a real kick-ass choir. We're serious about this in Minnesota. We do choir as well as anybody in the world. We were brought up for it. Stood in Zion Lutheran with folks who never said boo in real life, and the organ played "Ein feste burg ist unser Gott" and my God, a cathedral of sound rose up through the floorboards and out your scalp, the Sacred Harmonic Convergence of the Blessed Are the Meek, and now in a packed hall in Cleveland we sing the St. Matthew Passion, and there are tears glittering in the front row, noses are blown, stunned faces, and again in Syracuse—just as Bruno Phillips has told us, "We are going to sing so that they will remember this for the rest of their lives. There is no other reason to do it, folks, none"—and two nights later, at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church on Central Park West in New York City. Oh, my God. Our driver missed the exit on the Thruway and wound up on the New Jersey Turnpike and then it took two hours to turn around and come through the Lincoln Tunnel and into Manhattan, Bruno Phillips sitting tall and composed behind the driver, and in the anxiety of arriving late, we forgot to be nervous about our New York debut, we just hustled off the bus and peed and combed our hair, and filed onto the stage twenty minutes late and the audience gave us a standing ovation. There were standees in back, people sitting in the aisles. We sang the best St. Matthew of our lives and those New Yorkers wept openly—old Broadway actresses, crooked financiers, admen, Jewish socialists, atheists, fingers stained yellow from tobacco, breath redolent of gin and vermouth—they were transformed into angels by ]. S. Bach's faith in Christ's sacrifice and they rose to their feet and drenched us in applause and shouts and we stood and soaked in it. People shouting "Thank you" and "God bless you." (A Minneapolis audience would've turned and walked out and gotten in their cars and driven home and turned on the news, but never mind.) So we sang "Children of the Heavenly Father" for aneacor~And then the "Hallelujah Amen." The applause wore us out. We walked off in a daze and Iris and I wandered into Central Park in the dark, into the Sheep Meadow and stood holding hands and I asked her to marry me. "Tonight?" she said. No, I said, when we get home. "Sounds good to me," she said.

Let us not to the marriage of people who know what they want

Admit impediments. Love doesn't vary

Like you might change your hair style from pixie to bouffant

Or throw away your swimsuit in January.

Oh no, it is an ever fixed mark

That looks on tempests and is never shaken.

It laughs at death and gooses statues in the park

And loves a cheeseburger with extra bacon.

Love's not time's fool though rosy lips and cheeks

Get all wrinkly and veiny and saggy and gnarly.

Love alters not with its brief hours and weeks

So don't give up on it, Charley.

If this be a big mistake and we wind up hissing and snarling

"There is nobody I'd rather be wrong with than you, my darling.

I knew so little about her. She was a good person, a good alto. A true-blue feminist and Democrat out to save the world like her heroes Dorothea Dix and Jane Addams and Elizabeth Cady Stanton and also a Golden Gophers hockey fan who leaped to her feet when the team scored and whooped and yelled and sang "Minnesota, Hats Off to Thee" and shouted out the Rah rah rah for Ski-u-Mah. Her father was a Lutheran minister from Wisconsin, so she knew the power of principled blockheads to drive you nuts, and her maternal grandfather led the plumbers out on strike in 1915 crying, "If they won't pay a living wage, let them shit in the streets!" so she also knew the power of united action to bring about change. She got her degree in social work and was hired by Lutheran Social Services as a caseworker and discovered her calling in life, which was to rescue old people from the ravages of longevity. She became the Susan B. Anthony of demented geezerdom. She was a great woman. She went out one day to track down somebody's lost grandpa, and found him living in filth in a plywood shack near the Dayton's Bluff freight yard. He'd been a mover and shaker in the Republican party, a federal judge for twenty-five years, a patron of the arts, a man who once dined with Ike at the White House, and now he was filthy and out of his mind, and she roped him in and brought him to the hospital and made sure that his needs were attended to and that the newspapers wouldn't find out, and took the afternoon off and married me, at the courthouse in Hudson, Wisconsin, August 4, 1966, with a bouquet of dandelions in her hand. No fancy wedding for her because the expense was ridiculous and what did we need it for? Dandelions are fine.

We called our parents from a coffee shop and gave them the big news. My father said, "What did you go and do that for?" He was miffed, but then he always is. My mother said, "I hope you'll be happy" in a tone of voice that said. Six months. A year at most. They were on their way to play in the 3M Parade of Plaid golf tournament. My parents live in their own little world. May to October at Dellwood, winters in Palm Beach. They golf eighteen holes three or four times a week and attend a cocktail party every single night and in their pink lady and martini haze are honestly not aware that some people do not have two homes. We don't talk except when absolutely necessary and we haven't come to that point yet.

 

We attended Iris's dad's church in Hopkins that Sunday and he introduced us from the pulpit and people clapped and he had us come up front for a special blessing and then he preached on fruitfulness. It was a twenty-five-minute sermon and all through it I thought about how nice it would be to get back into Iris's pants. The Rev. and Mrs. O'Blennis took us to dinner at the Tremont and the Rev was still revved up about fruitfulness; he asked Iris if she had a bun in the oven. She said no. "What do you do, if I may ask?" he said to me. "I am a writer, sir," I said. "I'm working on a novel." For all the work I had done on that novel, I might as well have said, "I am working on a cure for the common cold," but he seemed satisfied with my being a novelist and keeping busy novelizing. They were sweet old birds. He said to the Missus, "Well, it's a big occasion, our little girl going off and getting married," and he ordered a bottle of red wine and they got slightly potted and then he had a big glass of tawny port and I thought he might burst into song. "When can you two come up to the cabin?" he cried. The Missus fussed over the fact that Iris was keeping her last name, which was customary among young progressive women in those days. Her mother worried, "How does Larry feel about that? What's wrong with Wyler?" Larry felt fine about that and everything else. Had no dough and no great prospects, but I had the girl, and that was good enough for me.

Midwesterners and especially Minnesotans, will really enjoy Love Me. The rest of us will find parts of it funny. New Yorkers will be amazed by the depiction of their city.

Steve Hopkins, September 23, 2003

 

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The recommendation rating for this book appeared in the October 2003 issue of Executive Times

URL for this review: http://www.hopkinsandcompany.com/Books/Love Me.htm

 

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