The most striking facet of "Pilgrims: A Wobegon Romance," the latest novel from Garrison Keillor, is that it somewhat unintentionally constitutes an attempt toward a modern adaptation of Chaucer's "The Canterbury Tales."
Lake Wobegon, for readers unfamiliar with Keillor's work, is a fictional place in Minnesota that Keillor has used as a setting in several of his books and on his radio show, "A Prairie Home Companion." "Pilgrims" presents 12 Wobegonians, all of various professions, including a farmer, a carpenter and a barkeeper.
They are interestingly enough not even present in the United States but en route to Italy, where the usual wit and charm so typical of Keillor ensues.
The novel also contains Gary Keillor, a character in many ways identical to the author himself, much as how Chaucer can be viewed as a character in "The Canterbury Tales" as well.
Finally, as implied by the title, these 12 characters are likewise embarking on a type of pilgrimage.
Yet, it distorts too many similarities with Geoffrey Chaucer's text to construct for itself a parallel identity, and the components that make this novel unique will interest modern readers to a greater extent.
Like Chaucer, Keillor begins the book with a prologue of sorts, yet the latter is much shorter and does not delineate every character but simply the main few. Marjorie Krebsbach, an English teacher among the 12, provides more access to the story, along with the character Keillor himself.
In addition, rather than the sequential structure with which Chaucer organized his work (i.e. where each character's tale is proceeded by a prologue), Keillor applies a more fluid approach.
He weaves in and out of several characters' heads within a few pages, rather than utilizing merely one perspective.
Finally, Keillor as a character has much more direct interaction with the reader than Chaucer.
Aside from the correlations and disparities that one might draw between the two texts, "Pilgrims" is foremost its own entity, and it stands relatively well upon bookshelves. It is admittedly a little weaker than its Wobegon predecessors, but Keillor's writing retains its familiar ability to provide an, at times, humorous and enjoyable read that will leave his fans and other readers anything but woebegone.
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