Title: Pilgrims: A Wobegon Romance
Author: Garrison Keillor
Publication Date: September 2009
Purchase Price: $25.95 (hardback)
Misc. Info.: Further tales from the lives of the citizens of Lake Wobegon.
What starts out as a simple trip to Rome to honor a fallen soldier becomes something entirely different for Margie Krebsbach, fifty-three year-old English teacher of Lake Wobegon, Minnesota. She’s planned to bring her husband Carl along, but she didn’t expect the other hangers-on: a farmer, a recently dumped and very weepy mayor, a priest, a man who can’t accept his recent Alzheimer’s diagnosis, and a woman who can’t keep her mouth shut. And the entire trip is being entirely funded by Garrison Keillor, a sneaky, opportunistic radio personality and author whom everyone suspects is going to put everything that’s said into yet another of his books.
At first I was rather surprised by Pilgrims. Those who listen to (the real) Garrison Keillor’s radio program—”A Prairie Home Companion”—know that although the characters are not perfect, they are rather idealized. Perhaps Keillor believes that those who attend and/or listen to his show are not the type who can appreciate a story about adulterous affairs, government officials “living in sin,” and the almost mass-scale deception that goes on in Pilgrims.
But perhaps these flawed characters are better than their saccharine-sweet radio counterparts; Margie breaks all manner of marital rules, and the story of Gussie Norlander’s heroic demise may turn out not to be quite as heroic as the Minnesotans think.
Sometimes it is easier to love a flawed character, simply because we can see ourselves in him/her. Their flaws make them more human, and thus more real. Everyone falls prey to many of the same temptations that the group of twelve tourists does, and in the end the reader cannot really fault them for their choices.
Although the plot is wonderful and the characters believable, one cannot help but get lost within Keillor’s descriptions of people, places, and things. For example, the contrast between Margie and her husband Carl upon their arrival in Rome: “[she], face scrubbed, fresh, grinning, towing,” and “Carl, who [looks] stunned as if struck by a ball-peen hammer…” (p.3). Sentences extend on for half a page, bringing life to Rome and the characters with which Keillor has populated it. The reader may begin Pilgrims with the belief that it will be a quick, light read, but will likely be surprised by how quickly and deeply he/she is drawn into a surprisingly complex and amazing story.
“The heart longs for the impossible and it doesn’t ever stop, even when it’s broken, it keeps on wanting.” (p.70)
“A failure as an individual, she became half of a couple.” (p.146)