cover image The Sandy Bottom Orchestra

The Sandy Bottom Orchestra

Garrison Keillor. Hyperion Books, $14.95 (272pp) ISBN 978-0-7868-0173-2

Debuting as a writing team, Keillor (Lake Wobegon Days) and his musician wife, Nilsson, offer a keenly perceptive slice of Midwestern life as they evoke the muddled emotions of a 14-year-old violinist from Sandy Bottom, Wis., a place as uninspired as its name. Embarrassed by her pianist mother's tireless efforts to instill ""cultural awareness"" in the community and dubious about her dairy-manager father's decision to conduct a full orchestra (cannons included) at the annual Dairy Days festival, Rachel Green would just as soon spend her summer some place far away (Italy, for example). But staying at home and joining the local orchestra does hold promise, especially when it means she will be seeing more of Scott, an attractive young cellist. Readers will empathize with Rachel's longing to be more ""mainstream"" without compromising herself and will savor the priceless characterizations of quirky dairylanders (among them a mayor with ""an I.Q. around room temperature"" and a cat-loving, aging string player with ""bird-cage"" hair). Throughout, heartland sentiments and artistic egos are parodied with affection. Even when personalities clash and conflicts arise, an aura of warmth and optimism prevails. Ages 10-up. (Dec.)