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In Search of Lake Wobegone

| 9.7.02
In Search of Lake Wobegone, by Richard Olsenius (photographs) and Garrison Keillor (text)

I've listened to A Prarie Home Companion since I was a boy. Because I lived in a rural area of out-state Minnesota, I felt like Garrison Keillor was telling my story, and I readily identified with the folks in Lake Wobegon.

The "gimmick" for this book is that the location of Lake Wobegone (something kept hidden in Keillor's radio monologues) is finally made known. According to Keillor, the more compelling a story is, the more people want it to be true or be based in true events. In that light, he "started telling people that the town is in central Minnesota, near Stearns County, up around Holdingford, not far from St. Rosa and Albany and Freeport, northwest of St. Cloud, which is sort of the truth, I guess." (p. 12)

The black and white photos which grace this coffee table book will depict very familiar scenes to anyone who has lived in or near a small midwestern town. High school prom, barren winter landscapes, grain elevators, old men drinking in darkly lit taverns --they're all captured by Richard Olsenius' practiced hand. A photographer with the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the photos are culled from an on-going assignment he had to photograph Minnesota for the paper when news was slow.

These photos are all from towns in Stearns County, but they really could have been taken anywhere in the rural upper-midwest. Many of the people and places looked like they walked right out of my own childhood in Perham, Minnesota. (A community even more Wobegonian than Stearns County, since unlike Stearns, Perham really does have a mix of German Lutherans and German Catholics and is situated near many beautiful lakes.)

As one who moved away from rural Minnesota for college, left the Upper Midwest for grad school, and lived in the South for five years before finally moving back to Saint Paul to raise a family, I could relate to Keillor's comment explaining the appeal of Minnesota's cities for those raised in its countryside:

Minnesota is a state of decent, hardworking people, half of whom live on the expanding island that is the Twin Cities, Minneapolis and St. Paul, an island of lifestyle in an ocean of cornfields and soybeans, where there is good espresso and Thai food and The New York Times and a couple orchestras and a dozen theaters and movie houses that show foreign and indie flicks and Ruminator Books has about three hundred shelf-feet of poetry and you can get almost anything people in New York or Los Angeles have and yet live on a quiet tree-lined street with a backyard and send your kids to public school. (p. 15)

PUBLISHER: Viking Studio; ISBN: 0670030376; (2001)

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