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The Twilight of Lake Woebegotten by Harrison Geillor

When I was at school, the atmosphere was mostly serious. Various talking heads would appear in front of us, doing their best to interest us in basic information. Educationally, they believed we first needed order and structure. Later, we could build on this for a more sophisticated level of performance. We ground through the grammar of both English and foreign languages so that, when we acquired vocabulary, we could speak and write with formal exactness. All continued serenely until, after we’d polished off O-Levels, our English teacher decided we should explore the range of literary forms. Suddenly, we were expected to parody and lampoon anything and everything supposedly serious. Looking back, this was building on our devout worship of the surrealism of the Goon Show and other potentially satirical radio programmes of the period. If you want an academic justification, I suppose he must have encountered Heidegger’s ideas as incorporated into French existentialism because he gave us an early introduction to the process, courtesy of Derrida, we might now consider deconstruction or, if you prefer, reconstruction. We had to focus on the text, capture its meaning and then make fun of it.


This caught me at an impressionable age and I’ve never really lost a somewhat subversive view of the world. In terms of my reading, I also enjoyed the parodies of the classics of my chosen genres, devouring Bored of the Rings by Henry N Beard and Douglas C Kenney as soon as it came out. Similarly, I grabbed National Lampoon’s Doon by Ellis Weiner. Such books are of their time and I seriously doubt anyone would find them even remotely amusing today. I’m also conscious that neither book would make much sense unless you were really familiar with the originals.


All of which brings me to the modern fashion for mash-ups which has produced such classics as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (Seth Grahame-Smith), Little Women and Werewolves (Porter Grand), etc. Personally, I’m not impressed because although there’s some originality at a conceptual level, the execution is neither a good version of the original styles and manners, nor a competent supernatural novel. Such humour as exists comes from the forced nature of the situations, e.g. that Queen Victoria might hitch up her skirts and secretly hunt demons or Abraham Lincoln despatch vampires — easier because of the lack of skirts. But, after a few pages, even the best of jokes palls and leaves us with pages of desperate writing.


For many moons, Garrison Keillor has been broadcasting and writing about Lake Wobegon, a fictional town in Minnesota based, in part, on his hometown of Anoka. Similarly, Stephenie Meyer has been writing about the romantic possibilities if you put a vampire and a predatory young lady in the same room, and wait to see who’s chased and whether two become one (the Spice Girls have a lot of explaining to do). So here comes The Twilight of Lake Woebegotten by Harrison Geillor (Night Shade Books, 2011) (which looks like a pseudonym for someone famous but one can never be sure about these things). Should you be afraid, very afraid?


Well, surprisingly, this is a very good stand-alone novel. Suppose you’d spent the last thirty years never engaging in cultural activities like reading fiction, listening to the radio, watching television or going to the cinema (which probably means you’re Amish). You could still read this book with perfect enjoyment for, although it borrows heavily from the ideas bank underlying the originals, it doesn’t depend on them for their effect.


So here comes Bonnie Grayduck. Forced to leave California to escape investigation into some of her extracurricular activities, she finds herself in a small town in Minnesota. This is both a curse because life appears so unsophisticated, and an opportunity because she believes she can easily dominate the scene and do more of what she enjoys. As is always the case in such stories, she must enroll in the local High School where, in the midst of all the dross, there’s this stand-out hunk who catches her eye. Now begins a strange courtship, the young man resisting her feminine wiles. Rising to the challenge, she plots his downfall only to discover she’s in pursuit of a vampire — and, ignoring the television show, she keeps a diary detailing her experiences. It should be said, however, this is rather better than the CW Network’s teen drama (not difficult) and, in my opinion, even better than the Twilight young adult books of Stephenie Meyer (even less difficult). This novel is written with very adult sensibilities engaged (no porn, of course) and a gentle sense of humour aimed at mocking the standard tropes in vampire, were-thing and Criminal Minds-type dramas. And it’s all set in Lake Wo(e)bego(tte)n so we get news of life and death out on the prairies.


I’m a natural curmudgeon so never do laughter unless I’m confident I can be unobserved — reputation is everything in my household. Fortunately, The Twilight of Lake Woebegotten is not something that threatened unrestrained mirth, but it did make me smile every now and again. By my standards, this is high praise. So allow me to recommend this rather clever book by Harrison Geillor. If you have had Amish tendencies for the last thirty years, you can still enjoy this on its merits, but a little background on Lake Wobegon and both Twilight and New Moon will enhance your understanding. It’s not something Heidegger would have enjoyed (unless in translation), but my English teacher would have approved.


A copy of this book was sent to me for review.


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