FIRST SALVO FIRED AT WOBEGON : Two Aggressively Cultural Towns Fight Over the Literary Turf

<i> Slawicki is a pen name for Irv Letofsky</i>

The new Garrison Keillor book, “Lake Wobegon Days,” has been widely praised. This review, reprinted with permission, is thought to be the only negative notice in the nation. It ran under the headline “Lake Wobegon Doze.”

Mary Francis Slawicki is editor of The Cynosure in Capital City, Minn., 12 miles northwest of Lake Wobegon. The towns have long been nemeses and her comments have set off a fevered new round of controversy.

Lake Wobegon residents charge that Slawicki’s review is “mean and vicious envy.”

The book is No. 1 on most best - seller lists, including The Times’ and the New York Times’. It also tops “the most bought” list at Foley’s 5 & Dime in Capital City, with 11 copies sold and none yet returned.

We’ve all heard about Gary Keillor’s new book about Lake Wobegon. It’s a big deal.


It’s full of informative historical notes about our neighbors. It’s all old stuff, of course, but witty and well written.

It’s easy to read, with a neat typeface. And it’s 337 pages for only $17.95, which is a very good ratio for cost per page.

I also found the book very restful. Even, sometimes, boring. In fact, so boring that I had to pinch myself repeatedly to stay awake. In fact, I had some friends stop over to my apartment to pinch me too. And when they fell asleep, they had people come over to pinch them .

I finally left a wakeup call for Chapter 10.

As expected, there’s no mention of Cap City anywhere, not even a tiny footnote.

Paul Dahlberg, our hardware man, goes, “Mr. Keillor knows which side his caramel roll is buttered on.”

The consensus is that Mr. Keillor never mentions the City in any of his “amusing stories” because he gets all his royalties from Lake Wobegon.

The fact is that the Goners are made to look pretty silly. “The Town that Time Forgot” indeed.

Mr. Keillor is trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ass.

Lake Wobegon is Wimp City. Cap City is where the action is.

We were the first incorporated township in central Minnesota to put up a Business District sign. We were the first town selected in the county to test Diet Pepsi. We even had Dutch elm disease before Lake Wobegon!

Our Ooofta Days is the major debauch in these parts. If I might be permitted an hyperbole of which I have some acquaintanceship, it’s like a Polish wedding all crammed into three days.

The only word to describe it is . . . ooofta.

But I’m sure it’s not nearly as much fun as his Toast and Jelly Days ho ho.

The City has more up-to-date tastes. We love “Hill Street Blues,” “60 Minutes” and foreign films, like “Sound of Music” and “The Stewardesses,” both big hits here.

And for high culture (who is that woman who does the poems in Lake W anyway?), I refer to Jim Berdahl. He’s been confined to a wheelchair since the accident six years ago, but he’s made quite a rep as a writer. I refer to his spicy limericks, and especially the epic adventures of the waitress Margo and the boy from Fargo. It runs 22 verses, which all rhyme.

It was also Jim’s promotional sense that’s making so much money for Margaret Sorenson. Her mail-order sales were minimal on “Mother Sorenson’s Greatest Casserole Hits.” But Jim got an ad in the St. Paul Pioneer Press with his new title, “Danish Delights,” and got 275 orders the first week.

(Margaret’s always kidded now about her secret bank vault in Duluth.)

Jim talks blackly about the Other Side of Cap City and he might do a book someday. He says we’re better than Peyton Place. He says that if Grace Metalious were alive today, she’d die.

(Even our cats got more spunk. You can tell the Wobegon cats because of those wimpy collars from Bertha’s Kitty Boutique: “Hi, my name’s ----- and I belong to -----.”)

And I MUST pay tribute to our caramel rolls, fresh every morning from Bill & Ginger’s Diner, with pecans dripping all over them. They’re our town badge of honor. They’re like drug addiction but messier.

(They also may have mystical powers. I’ve had one every morning now for the last 10 years and haven’t had a cold since. Of course I put on two pounds a day. . . . )

If we’d would send a morning shipment to Lake W., they’d throw rocks at the Chatterbox Cafe and run Dorothy out of town!

That’s the problem with this Mr. Keillor. He just isn’t the sort of guy to pick up a caramel roll and let it ooze through his fingers and drip all over his nice suit. Get on down, Mr. Keillor.