If you have ever seen Minnesota word-wrangler Kevin Kling perform, you know that he is a storyteller above all else. He is a guy who can do amazingly charming things with a microphone and a memory. When it comes to putting those words on paper, binding them, and putting them in the hands of readers, he goes about it from a speaker’s perspective:
"You really don’t know what’s in a story until you tell it in front of people," Kling said in an interview last spring before his performance at the University of Minnesota Duluth, which kicked off Sieur Du Luth. "Until I’m in front of an audience. When you write a story, you can see it on a page. The patterns make sense visually. When you tell a story, the threads are invisible.
Its logic is not the same logic you find on a page. Until you tell a story, you don’t know what you’ve got.
The last book I wrote, I did write a couple of these stories. Most stories I’ve written in these books, I’ve told them for 15-20 years. I’m just writing off the top of my head as I tell them."
Kling’s latest compilation, "Holiday Inn," reads so clearly, it’s like you are listening to Kling speaking on a tape stuffed into your Sony Walkman. (1) The 21 pieces featured in the book named for the movie, not the hotel chain, Kling covers four seasons worth of holidays. The traditional ones like Mother’s Day and the Fourth of July, and the ones that should be holidays — like Grandma’s Marathon weekend and the Minnesota State Fair.
This book by the storyteller, National Public Radio commentator, playwright and poet is a real charmer. Kling, who gets a lot of love in this area from the local theaters who have performed his plays, writes about the mundane and easy-to-relate-to stories like breath-holding competitions against his brother in church, or a dog that vacuums up an entire plate of oatmeal cookies in a single snort. His parent’s aggressive approach to hiding Easter eggs, and a neighbor who gave out special Halloween pickles.
Then Kling throws in the adventurous, like a train ride strapped to an open flatbed, through a tunnel in the mountains, or wandering around in Australia. And then there are the "I know a guy who" stories, Minnesota-specific urban legends, including one where a man is ice fishing and catches a license plate. He looks at it, realizes it is his license plate, runs out of the fish house and sees his truck has gone through the ice.
(1) I used this line in another online review of this book. I believe it is okay to steal lines from myself. I give myself permission to do so.