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Garrison Keillor: Pontoon: A Novel of Lake Wobegon

By Levi Clancy for Student Reader on

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Pontoon is full of anecdotal stories and ill-fitting tangents, making it the perfect book for the busy reader who wants something tasty and digestible to enjoy during stolen minutes throughout the day. The book contains several story lines that intersect at the end, followed by an epilogue that is perhaps my favorite part of the book so far as laugh-worthy humor is concerned. Outside of the epilogue, there was only one bit that made me audibly laugh. However, there were countless parts that struck a chord or seemed to capture something in Keillor's characteristic folksy yet modern manner.

They entered the Twist contest (wotthehell) and won a night st the Romeo Motel (hot damn) and went and stayed, the three of them, turned out the lights, lay in the hot tub, looked up at the ceiling mirror, and drank champagne from their shoes. (Keillor, p 4-5)

She danced in the moonlight and went indoors to lie down and die. She was a realist. At 82 you have to be. (Keillor, p 7)

Pull up your socks, kiddo. And put on some lipstick. (Keillor, p 15)

I love when Keillor describes "whips of remorse" as it really does feel that way to me (Keillor, p 46).

She was a bad person, very bad, but she had her reasons. (Keillor, p 49)

Anything that happened to you reminded her of something in her own life, however remote the connection. If he has mentioned a Raoul, she would've remembered a Raoul, or maybe a Ramon, or a Newell, or maybe the Sun God Ra, and she could yak about it for as long as you'd let her. You were never at a loss for conversation with Sarah. She could talk for both of you. That was the nice part about having sex with her -- she mostly shut up and you had a little peace and quiet. (Keillor, p 61)

"What do you think is the best age to start a family?"

"Well, unless you adopt, you have to start them at zero and let them grow up from there." (Keillor, p 52-53)

I'm here in Columbus GA, attracted by the name "Chattahoochir" on my road map, which is the rivet between GA and AL, but you probably knew that. (Keillor, p 54)

"I've learned my lesson," he said. "I am a cigar smoker, and you are the love of my life." And she brought him a box of Muriel Slims, and stood at his door smoking one herself, and said, "These are good! Mild and tasty and long-lasting, just like me!" (Keillor, p 68)

The wind sweeps down from Canada and the sky lowers and you get depressed and gain a hundred pounds and want to kill yourself. She had read Kierkegaard in philosophy class and it went to her head. Out in California she spent fifteen years bouncing from one man to another and writing jagged letters home saying that "I now realize that my entire life was a lie" -- how can a girl say such a thing to her own patents? An only child? It's not as if they had replacements. (Keillor, p 70)

At Moonlite Bay, they served slabs of our the size of trowels and the drinks are all doubles and triples. Some people finish dinner and drive off in the wrong direction. Like Evelyn. Instead of south, she went Up. (Keillor, p 83)

He had been a grad student in philosophy at Berkeley, working on a paper deconstructing the work of Sartre, whose subtext, he discovered, was all about a fear of dogs (Keillor, p 90)

"You are so putrid. ... You're not a person, you're a pathology," she said. It felt good after all the humming and harmonic converging, to haul off and sock the guy. (Keillor, p 179)

Once upon a time there was a young woman named Debbie and she ran away from home because she was afraid of being normal. That was the worst thing she could imagine. So she hurried out to California and lost her virginity as soon as she could, to an older man who was very sad about something, and then she learned to be a freak, making it up as she went along, and then she held cats and dogs on her lap as they breathed in healing smells. Oh, and she also used a lot of cocaine at one point, children. And she ate some mushrooms that gave her dramatic visions of ocean waves and rainbows rising from peninsulas and gargoyles falling out of trees. She was original and creative and vibrant and independent and praised by one and all and then one day she suddenly got very sick of herself and had to get away and she came back here. It's peaceful here. You don't have to be wonderful here. You can just be who you are. (Keillor, p 181)

The Danish Lutheran Board thought it important that the troublemakers should visit Minnesota and Wisconsin. The twenty-four, given their druthers, would've focused on the coasts, but the Board had reminded them that their pensions were at risk and they might be forced to live in rented rooms in Ahlborg, the Danish Omaha. (Keillor, p 184)

Lutefisk is cod that has been dried in a lye solution. It looks like the dessicated [sic] cadavers of squirrels run over by trucks, but after it is soaked and reconstituted and the lye is washed out and it's cooked, it looks more fish-related, though with lutefisk, the window of success is small. It can be tasty but the statistics aren't on your side. It is the hereditary delicacy of Swedes and Norwegians who serve it around the holidays, in memory of the ancestors, who ate it because they were poor. Most lutefisk is not edible by normal people. It is reminiscent of the afterbirth of a dog or the world's largest chunk of phlegm. Pastor Ingqvist wrote on his calendar for Saturday: "Lutefisk?" (Keillor, p 185)

He counselled her when she divorced Lloyd -- his standard talk: marriage is a story and it gains richness with time -- "Not this one," she said. (Keillor, p 186)

They had gone to the turkey farm in Annandale and marched through the sheds, led by a laconic young man who stared at his shoes and mumbled, and the whole thing horrified them -- it was a concentration camp for birds disfigured by genetic engineering, birds with enormous breasts like Hollywood porn stars, breasts like backpacks, breasts so huge that the birds couldn't keep their balance and many fell and broke their ankles. And the invalid turkeys were not euthanized but sedated and put in hammocks and fed intravenously and brought to market weight in a comatose condition and then slaughtered and sold. The obscenity of it aroused the Danes to a high pitch and they sat on the bus ratcheting and snarkling [sic] about it in their skritchy [sic] language with the weird chuckling vowels and meanwhile Fred was urging them to please stick with the program, the hog people were expecting visitors. But no, they wouldn't. "We have seen swine farms in our own country," said Matias. "There is no need to see more." Some of them were afraid, he explained, of inhaling airborne genetic material that would enlarge their own breasts and make them freaks. They were serious. (Keillor, p 214-215)

He puled the foil off a bottle, popped the cork which flew into the lake, poured, peeled, popped a few more -- "Any nondrinkers?" he cried -- the Danes laughed. (Keillor, p 218)

Evidently they'd read The Scarlet Letter once and it summed up America for them, that and Death of a Salesman and "The Waste Land." They probably thought Joe McCarthy was still in the US Senate. He wished he could piss in their champagne. (Keillor, p 222)

The following is the only part other than the epilogue that made me laugh,

And Kyle flying onward threw his weight to the left and the parasail banked and missed the flaming silk by inches -- a little burst of dark cloud appeared where he emptied his bowels -- and flew on. (Keillor, p 230)

The room was on the 23rd floor which made them sick with fear that they might jump out the window at any minute (Keillor, p 238)

The real comedy was how Virginia told it. It's really her story. She told it so well, and she made it all sound so perfectly reasonable, which it was. But then other people got hold of it and it becomes a sermon about the perils of drinking or travel or Hawaii -- the perils of having a good time -- and they kill it. And that's why I love to travel. (And drink. And have a good time.) Because I need to get away from the killers. Righteous people can be so cruel when they go after sinners and infidels, I just don't want to be around to see it. (Keillor, p 238)

The epilogue is a delight. One of the protagonists has decided to move away and start a new life. During her last few minutes in Lake Wobegon, whilst taking a nap, she is visited by several ghosts from centuries past making social calls. They continue for pages about their bleak lives and even suicide; the protagonist asks if they are related, why they are there and if they could please leave. Eventually she awakens and is glad to leave -- because there is too much dust and too many ghosts. As she drives from Lake Wobegon she is visited by her her mother's spirit in the car, but then the deceased falls asleep and fades away. Only the open road remains.