with a poignancy matched by few contemporarynAmerican writers: his descriptionnof his “Storm Home” inntown, his “storm parents,” thenKloeckels, and his imaginary visit tonthem as the refugee storm child;nElizabeth the phone operator’s recountingnof the time Keillor’s grandfatherntook her out into a cold winter’snnight to see a silver wolf sitting on ansnowbank; and Mr. Dahl, who keeps an1943 calendar girl smiling above hisnworkbench, reminding him of hisnyouthful wife.nYet Keillor has turned his considerablentalents toward deeper themes.nThemahcally, he has drawn on thenrich literary traditions of O.E.nRolvaag, Vilhelm Moberg, and othernchroniclers of the Scandinavian migrationnto the upper Midwest. He hasnalso joined in the popular revival ofnromantic agrarianism, evidenced innfilms such as Country and The River.nOld Southern Agrarians such as AndrewnLytic and Richard Weaver wouldnrecognize a co-celebrant in Keillor’snportrayal of the rural pieties. So wouldnWendell Berry, the contemporarynnovelist whose writing in defense ofnagrarian culture is marred only by anpreference for unimaginative policynresponses. Further to the left, Keillornresonates with the bioregional movement,nsmall bands of radical ecologistsnseeking to transform themselves inton”new natives” of rural America.nAt this deeper level, too, the greatnirony of A Prairie Home Companionnand Lake Wobegon Days emerges: thenradio show, the host and author, andnhis essays and books celebrate thensmall town, rural values, and folkculture.nYet their primary audience isnnot found in villages, on farms, ornamong the agrarian and laboringnclasses. Rather, it is professors of English,nstockbrokers, artists, corporatenlawyers, and inhabitants of San Francisconand New York that worship at thenLake Wobegon altar. Where the historicnmodels for Keillor’s show, the oldnNational Barn Dance and the GrandnOle Opry, had authentic bonds to thenrural culture they evoked, A PrairienHome Companion is a show for intellectualsnand the upper-middle class.nMore than a kind of rural slummingnlies behind this peculiar fact. Keillor isnsmart enough to play upon the deepnsplit in the modern American soul: thenschizophrenia over the small-townnAmerica that remains, despite a centurynof urbanization, the dominant metaphornof the national experience.nKeillor praises the small town, thenplace where immigrants came “tonmaintain their honest rural way ofnlife.” He notes that when the ThanatopsisnClub held its centennial in 1982nand wrote the White House for anPresidential essay on small-town life, itnreceived back a letter extolling LakenWobegon as a model of free enterprisenand individualism. But the truth is,nwrites Keillor, that “Lake Wobegonnsurvives to the extent that it does on anform of voluntary socialism. . . . Younneed a toaster, you buy it at Co-opnHardware even though you can get andeluxe model … for less money atnK-Mart in St. Cloud. You buy it atnCo-op because you know Otto.” Thensmall town rests on the principle ofnloyalty, and a renunciation of individualism,nexcessive material goods, andnthe competitive edge. In this townn”smart doesn’t count for much,” andnthe clearly superior soprano in thenLutheran choir takes care not to singntoo loudly: being good enough, butnnot too good, is what really matters.nLake Wobegon is also a localenwhere one plants trees, works hard,nmarries, produces children, and isncontent with having little more. It is anway-of-life that binds the individualninto a community of shared experiencenand common obligation, makingnevery action social in nature because itnhas clear reverberations throughoutnthe town. It is a human constructnrequiring successive generations to livenout the same life patterns, so that anyouth’s visit to the warming house atnthe ice rink brings the shocking revelationnthat the inscriptions on the wallsnwere put there by his parents andngrandparents, once young and lovestrucknjust like himself.nThreatening this world is the cosmopolitannlife and infectious individualismnof the metropolis. Keillor describesna Lake Wobegon father whonavoided driving through the Twin Cities,nplanning trips “like he was crossingnenemy lines, skirting the mainnforces, looking for the gaps to breaknthrough into open country.” In annautobiographical section, Keillor relatesnhis own early months at thenUniversity of Minnesota, accompa­nnnnied by his dog from home: “My oldnblack mutt reminded me of a wholenstring of allegiances and loyalties,nwhich school seemed to be trying tonjiggle me free of. My humanities instructor,nwho sounded to be fromnsomeplace east of East, had a talent fornsaying ‘Minnesota’ as if it were ‘moosenturds.'” Frequent references are madenin the book to the corrosive impact onnLake Wobegon of the modern liberalnchurch, offering a religion wheren”God is the gentle mist rising from thenmeadow and the smile on a child’snface.” Similarly, the “dull rapture” ofntelevision is shown dissolving familynbonds. Keillor describes the Kreugersnwatching the Perry Como ChristmasnSpecial, sipping martinis: “A dismalnscene compared to church, peoplenleaning forward to catch the wordsncoming from their children’s mouths,ntheir own flesh and blood, once babesnin arms, now speaking the Gospel.”nYet Keillor also denigrates the smallntown. Central to the book is a 23-pagenfootnote, purportedly the remnants ofn”95 Theses” penned in 1980 by annunnamed exile from Lake Wobegon.nBehind an element of satire lies deepncriticism, even bitterness. The “author”nblasts town folk who taught himnto worship a God who is like them, ton”feel shame and disgust about my ownnbody,” and to hold “an indecent fearnof sexuality.” He blasts the religiousnintolerance of family and friends whontook pride “in the great privilege ofnhaving been born Lutheran.” Thenwriter decries male role models such asnthe members of the Sons of Knute andnthe Booster Club whose “petulence,ninertia, and ineptitude are legendary.”nHe condemns the town for its devotionnto hard work as a guard against corruption,nand its preference for sufferingnover pleasure (“Birth control was nevernan issue with us. Nor was renunciationnof pleasures of the flesh. We nevernenjoyed them in the first place”).nThe author notes with contemptnthat “you taught me not to be ‘unusual’nfor fear of what the neighbors wouldnsay.” The inhabitants of LakenWobegon, he laments, had a set viewnof the Universe and “knew what everythingnand everybody was,” whethernthey had seen them or not. Indiansnwere drunks, Jews were thieves, thencolored were shiftless, and so on. Suchnsmall-town folk were unaware of thenMAY 1986/29n