Keillor offers up a mystical homecoming

  • Article by: LAURIE HERTZEL
  • Updated: November 7, 2009 - 5:37 PM

A Christmas Blizzard by Garrison Keillor

If you decide to make Garrison Keillor's fable, "A Christmas Blizzard," a read-aloud holiday tradition, you might find yourself worrying that you won't finish it before New Year's. This book, short as it is, does go on and on. Which is not to say that it's not entertaining -- it is, in its own weird way. But it does go on and on.

Keillor tells the story of James Sparrow, a wealthy Chicago man haunted by a warning given to him as a boy in North Dakota: Do not touch your tongue to a pump handle in winter. Over time, James has come to believe it inevitable that he will do this, so he chooses to spend Christmas in Hawaii, where there aren't many pump handles and where you won't freeze, should you lick one.

But then his uncle falls ill, and James returns to North Dakota and promptly gets stranded by a blizzard. There, he experiences an epiphany in the sauna, but not before he has mystical encounters with a talking wolf, a gruff airline employee and a mysterious Chinese man in a San Francisco coffee shop -- all while alone on the middle of a frozen lake. Not exactly the ghosts of Christmas past, but you get the idea.

Keillor loads his book with sideways stories, loopy segues, inside jokes (Sparrow burns a John Sandford paperback to keep warm), and rambling remembrances from the North Dakotans. Much of it is very funny. And the sense of place is right on the money -- boots crunching on the dry snow, the sound of shovels scraping the pavement, snowflakes as big as chicken feathers falling from the sky.

LAURIE HERTZEL

  • A CHRISTMAS BLIZZARD

    By: Garrison Keillor.

    Publisher: Viking, 180 pages, $21.95.

    Review: A short, sentimental fable about a rich man who returns to North Dakota and finds the meaning of Christmas.

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