Love Warps the
Mind a Little

John Dufresne
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Get *Love Warps the Mind a Little* delivered to your door! Love Warps the Mind a Little
John Dufresne
W.W. Norton & Company
320 pages
January 2008
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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With a cast of eccentrics worthy of a great Southern gothic, this second novel by John Dufresne succeeds on all levels. Here is a story that manages quite nicely to be at once funny, poignant and wise.

Curled Up With a Good BookLafayette Proulx's life-dream is to be a writer. After quitting his high school English teaching job and rashly confessing his infidelity to his wife, Laf finds himself thrown out of his 13-year marriage and on his way to living that dream. His girlfriend Judi welcomes him, his typewriter and his dog Spot with less warmth than Laf expected, but she grants him temporary shelter -- until he gets back on his feet. A psychotherapist, Judi prods Laf to go to marriage counseling.

Thus begins the next stage of Laf's life -- he's writing full time, foiling Judi's other suitors, fielding rejection slips, and trying to hide Spot's enormous appetite for the redwood pilings supporting Judi's deck. Laf bases his stories on what he doesn't know:

"In a high school algebra class, Brother Doherty once told me that what I didn't know would make a good book. I always hated that son of a bitch, but I've let his wisdom guide me ever since. I write about what I don't know. I figure if I know it already, what's the point of writing about it?"

But he also unabashedly swipes vignettes and voices from what he sees and hears from the people around him -- at the dentist's office, at Judi's birthday party, everywhere. And just as he is learning to believe in the death of his marriage and the birth of a new career, Laf must cope with Judi being diagnosed with stage IV cancer.

John Dufresne's style is articulate and intelligent, but what really makes this book so wonderful are the unforgettable characters. There's Nicky, the fry cook who dreams of being on "Jeopardy" and responds to everything in the form of a question. There's Judi's whole lovable dysfunctional family -- her paranoid schizophrenic father Ronnie; her nurse sister Stoni with two murderous boyfriends; her white trash mother Trixie. There's Spot, the omnivorous dog. There's Judi, a quirky and brave explorer of past lives, trying to make sense of this one in the face of death. And there's Laf -- confused, funny and trying to fulfill the promise he made to himself to write. What he will find as he cares for Judi through her fight with cancer is an inner resolve he's never before recognized in himself, and some of the truths of love:

"Love is anticipation and memory, uncertainty and longing. It's unreasonable, of course. Nothing begins with so much excitement and hope and pleasure as love, except maybe writing a story. And nothing fails as often, except writing stories. And like a story, love must be troubled to be interesting. We crave love, can't live without its intimacy, though it pains us. Judi told me that every person in therapy has a love disorder: never felt love, can't find love, trapped by love, unraveled by love, thinks love is lust or love is loss, fears love, loves too much, uses love for profit, jealous in love, lost in love, love affairs, unrequited in embers, love in vain, love in shackles, love maligned, love that warps the mind a little."

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