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Commentary: Welcome to the abyss

Garrison Keillor

I am off lingonberries for the time being and Volvos and flat white furniture from Ikea. No meatballs, thank you. Once again the humorless Swedes have chosen a writer of migraines for the Nobel Prize in literature, an author of twilight meditations on time and memory and mortality and cold toast by loners looking at bad wallpaper. It's not a prize for literature, it's a prize for nihilism. The Swedes said he's like Jane Austen combined with Kafka with some of Proust, three other writers you'd never invite to a party. Well, at least they didn't give it to Joni Mitchell.

That Swedes give out the Nobel is like the Swiss deciding the Cy Young Award. We're talking tone-deaf, people. The words "Swedish" and "comedy" seldom appear in the same sentence except as a joke. All the Swedes with a sense of humor came to America and so what the Nobel judges recognize is bleak, cramped, emotionally stunted, enigmatic, pretentious. Millions of people around the world understand the concept of reading books for pleasure but the Swedes think of it as a form of colonoscopy. If they gave a Nobel Prize for food, they'd give it to quinoa. Of course all the book critics applauded the choice of Kazuo Ishiguro: Praising the dull and deadly is a time-tested way to demonstrate intellectual superiority. It's like taking a ski vacation in North Dakota: It sets you apart from the crowd. And comedy is so utterly adolescent.

No, if you want to write a Nobel Prize-winning book, start with this paragraph:

"He did not know where he was. It was midnight and the train seemed to be moving, he couldn't be sure. There were voices nearby, or maybe he was only imagining them. He could smell creosote. He knew creosote from his years in Albertbad. He had been shipped there for crimes against the Directorate and had spent years driving truckloads of creosote to the canyon and dumping them in. Ever since then, his tea had tasted of creosote, his eggs, his morning muffin."

Do not -- I repeat, Do Not -- begin with a paragraph like this:

"She sat at the table in the far corner of the café, waiting for him, and flashed a brilliant smile as he approached. He noticed the balloon on the cushion of the chair opposite her. A large semi-inflated orange balloon. Her eyes glittered, she was delighted to see him, and suddenly he knew what he needed to do. He pretended not to notice the balloon. He walked to the chair, took her pale hand and kissed it, sat down firmly and from beneath came a loud bubbly fluttery exclamation of flatulence, and from her came peals of laughter, like bells on Christmas morning. And that was where it all began. From that decision to sit on it."

Meanwhile, it is a beautiful October day and I'm sitting in the kitchen, enjoying a hearty licorice tea and looking at my lovely wife. I don't recall anyone doing anything like that in Mr. Ishiguro's books. As the Nobel committee said, he "has uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world." Beauty is an illusion, as are licorice tea and marriage and, of course, the kitchen, which sits on the edge of a cliff looking down at nothingness 100 miles deep.

The man who should've won the prize goes by the name Philip Roth and what disqualifies him are the many rich descriptive passages revealing a love of the physical world and the elements of storytelling such as conversation, some of which is, since the speakers are American, way too funny, way too connected to the world.

In their long-standing campaign against comedy, the Swedish Academy is doing almost as much damage as old man Nobel did with his hard work developing better rockets, cannon, and explosives. They are leading young writers to aspire to vacuity. I say, let the Swedes give the prize for urban planning. Let the Jews give the Nobel Prize. They know from literature. Compare a list of great Jewish writers and a list of great Swedish writers. I rest my case. Swedish literature is made up of small dark stories in which people are very silent and then it starts snowing and a dog barks and someone reaches for the aquavit.

Poor Ishiguro. A week ago he was a writer struggling to put himself on paper and now he's become a granite statue in the park, pigeons sitting on his shoulders. Write something funny, Ish. Astonish us. Go to the Nobel banquet in Stockholm in December and sit down on the balloon.

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