Friday, March 13, 2009

Small-town Minn., small-town Mont.

What I'm reading: Liberty, by Garrison Keillor. Basically it's another extended "News from Lake Wobegon," and that's not a bad thing. Community pillar Clint Bunsen, 60 years old and unhappily married, is sorely tempted by the young and beautiful Angelica Pflame. Nobody does small-town intrigue and midlife angst better than G.K., and every character here is someone you know. Consider this wonderful description of Clint's old man:

"He like to pretend to pull his thumb off and then hold out his little finger and when you pulled, he let out a fart. He loved the Sunday comics, Jiggs and Maggie, Little Iodine, Gasoline Alley, and he smoked a pipe like the dads in the comic strips and he had a mustache too. Daddy was a deacon of the Lutheran church but he was no more Lutheran than Roman Navarro was. He used Jergens hand lotion and Swank cologne. He came home from church on Sunday and sang "It Ain't Necessarily So" to irritate Mom and fixed himself a gin martini and a plate of Ritz crackers with deviled ham and put Frank Sinatra on the turntable and got a dreamy look in his eye."

Swank cologne. Ritz crackers with deviled ham. I love that kind of thing. After all these years with his Lake Wobegon people, Keillor may be phoning it in by now, but that's all right with me. Keep 'em coming.

Nails, by Peter Bowen, also meanders among the foibles of small-town folk, these in the fictional town of Toussaint, Mont. When the nude body of a young girl is discovered at the side of the road, Bowen's series character, Gabriel Du Pre, is on the case. Chief among the suspects: a clan of Christian fundamentalists recently arrived in the area.

This is the first Bowen novel I've read, but he's written more than a dozen Du Pre books. He's been compared to Tony Hillerman, and the reader reviews I've seen are all positive. He must be an acquired taste. I found Nails to be tough sledding in the early chapters. The mystery takes way too long to set the hook, lingering on quirky and not-quite-plausible scenes involving peripheral characters. Those familiar with the series may enjoy this more than I did. Secondly, the colloquial dialogue among Bowen's characters -- salted with improper pronouns, random commas and odd contractions -- takes some getting used to. No doubt it's an accurate representation of the way these people talk, but it sometimes required a second read to divine the meaning. It did get easier as the book went on.


Anonymous said...

David, your take on Bowen paralleled mine. I did find it an interesting (but not easy) ead, mostly for setting, secondarily to some degree for the main character, Du Pre. Well worth the $2.00 I paid at the local library.

Marie gave up before she finished.


Dave Knadler said...

Well, I almost gave up too, but I hate to admit defeat before, say, half-a-dozen chapters. I might be inclined to try another one if this weren't the latest in the series.

I agree that the setting adds a lot. That's eastern Montana, no doubt about it.