Monday, 25 December 2006

Christmas literature

Baking begins in earnest weeks ahead. Waves of cookies, enough to feed an army, enough to render an army defenceless, including powerful rumballs and fruitcakes soaked in spirits (if the alcohol burns off in the baking, as they say, then why does Arlene hide them from her mother?). And tubs of lutefisk appear at Ralph's meat counter, the dried cod soaked in lye solution for weeks to make a pale gelatinous substance beloved by all Norwegians, who nonethless eat it only once a year. The soaking is done in a shed behing the store, and Ralph has a separate set of lutefisk clothes he keeps in the trunk of his Ford Galaxie. No dogs chase his car, and if he forgets to cahnge his lutefisk socks his wife barks at him. Ralph feels that the dish is a great delicacy and he doesn't find lutefisk jokes funny. "Don't knock it if you haven't tried it," he says. Nevertheless he doesn't offer it to carolers who come by his house because he knows it could kill them. You have to be ready for lutefisk.

Garrison Keillor, Lake Wobegon Days (Faber, 1986) 344-5.

A winsome portrait of small town America, alternately hilarious and poignant - populated by Norwegian Lutherans, German Catholics (who attend Our Lady of Perpetual Responsibility) and a handful of strange strict Brethren, narrated by a boy from a Brethren family who grew up in Lake Wobegon, Minnesota (in the middle of the state but omitted from maps owing to 19th century surveying errors) in the 50s and 60s. Absolute genius, and Keillor's radio broadcasts of the material that makes up his several books are priceless. I can still hear his wonderful drawl as I turn the pages...