If you've listened to Garrison Keillor on the radio, you know the
man can spin a yarn. But the constraints of Public Radio keep the
jokes largely in the land of PG-13. In his latest novel, LOVE ME,
Keillor demonstrates he can be just as funny on the topics of
impotence, sex (marital and otherwise), and especially that bastion
of culture, The New Yorker magazine.
Writing in a sixty-year-old man's point of view, Keillor recounts
the story of an earnest, literary Minnesotan named Larry Wyler.
After the surprise success of his first novel, SPACIOUS SKIES,
Larry follows the Siren's call to New York City and a tiny office
at The New Yorker. Far from being dismayed by Calvin Trillin
pointing out the gun in the top drawer, Larry takes to city life
and editor William Shawn like a duck to water. Sure, he misses
Iris, his do-gooder Democratic wife who remained in St. Paul to
save the aged rather than swank around in New York. But he has this
problem, you see. Women are crazy for him, and he's pretty crazy
about them, too.
Soon he has bigger problems. One night on a sailboat in the Hudson,
Shawn slips up and refers to Harold Ross as Rossi. Larry's second
novel AMBER WAVES tanks, and he develops a terminal case of
writer's block. Getting poorer by the second, he takes a job
writing an advice column ("Ask Mr. Blue") for a newspaper. Trillin
informs Larry that his original surname was Calvino, and drops the
name of E.B. Blanco. Larry grows suspicious. '"Are you telling me
that The New Yorker is owned by the Mafia?" I said. He said,
"I'm not telling you anything. I'm walking out that door and you
and I never had this conversation. Ciao, baby."'
It would be churlish of me to give away all the details of this
zany plot, but I will mention a Mr. Tony Crossandotti, who plagues
Larry to get his uncle's poem published in The New Yorker
and threatens to merge the magazine with Field and Stream.
Oh, and the murder in the Algonquin Hotel is one Dorothy Parker
herself would be proud of. The "Ask Mr. Blue" column develops into
a delightful subplot, with the same cranks revealing their
comic/tragic dilemmas in serial letters, interspersed with Mr.
Blue's droll (and often quite excellent) advice. We're not
surprised that he ends up back in St. Paul with Iris, since that's
where he started, and with him we take pleasure in his now quiet
yet contented life. For me the only misstep in the novel is the
suggestion that Larry, at the end, is beginning to lose his
Belly laughs are certainly in store for anyone who has ever mailed
a short story to a literary magazine, and perhaps also for the
larger, saner majority. Two parts over-the-top satire, one part
affectionate lampooning and one part genuine Midwestern wisdom,
LOVE ME will make you laugh and may even make you cry.
Reviewed by Eileen Zimmerman Nicol on January 22, 2011