Loving This Book 'Warps The Mind A Little'

'Love Warps the Mind a Little' cover
Love Warps the Mind a Little
By John Dufresne
Paperback, 320 pages
W.W. Norton & Co.
List price: $13.95

Read An Excerpt
Julia Glass i i

hide captionJulia Glass, author of I See You Everywhere, lives in a crooked blue house near the Massachusetts seashore with her two sons, their father and a semiblind foxhound named Jacob. Except for Jacob, they all play badminton.

Petre Ross/Courtesy of Anchor Books
Julia Glass

Julia Glass, author of I See You Everywhere, lives in a crooked blue house near the Massachusetts seashore with her two sons, their father and a semiblind foxhound named Jacob. Except for Jacob, they all play badminton.

Petre Ross/Courtesy of Anchor Books

Before I tell you how I fell for John Dufresne's novel, Love Warps the Mind a Little, let me list a few things about it that would normally have led me to toss it aside — including its just-too-clever title.

First: Lafayette Proulx, the smart-ass narrator, whose cutesy French name shadows that of Dufresne. No surprise, Laf is a fiction writer. Call me territorial or narcissistic, but I avoid novels about people who share my vocation.

Laf cheats, lies and freeloads off the women who suffer his philandering ways. He has an absurdly ill-mannered dog and hangs around with a virtual circus of recidivist criminals, New Age psychics, Christian fundamentalists and fast-food cooks.

I usually avoid circus novels, too.

So why did I read it? Because it was pressed into my hands by Joe DeSalvo of Faulkner House Books, located on Pirate's Alley in New Orleans. The best booksellers are like trustworthy pushers: Whatever they're dealing, you take it.

This book is not luminous or sweeping, poignant or grand. Laf turns out to be a Cat in the Hat kind of hero, the perceptive fool who lurks on the sidelines while furniture flies, men misbehave and women weep. He riffs brilliantly on childhood, parenthood, desire, cancer, marriage counseling, religious faith, the very nature of time. Claiming that he'd "rather be on fire than be ordinary," he cannot see that if all he does is write about life, then life will pass him by. He knows a lot about love and death, except this: that he is not immune to either.

Rarely have I laughed so often while reading a book or, coming to the end, cried so hard. Love Warps the Mind a Little is a masterpiece of the genre that writers call the "funny-sad novel," where humor both defies and gives shape to grief. It is rich entertainment, sheer lunacy, moonshine for the wounded heart.

All the best novels are about one thing: how we go on. The characters must survive the fallout of their own cowardice, folly, denial or misguided passion. They squander what matters most, and still they pick up the pieces. I've been there and, clearly, so has John Dufresne.

You Must Read This is produced and edited by Ellen Silva.

Excerpt: Love Warps the Mind a Little

Love Warps the Mind a Little
By John Dufresne
Paperback, 320 pages
W.W. Norton & Co.
List price: $13.95

Chapter 1. Love Without Its Wings

The day I finished my best story yet — about a social worker whose child gets Lyme disease, slips into a coma, suffers brain damage, becomes a burden to his father — after I typed it, retyped it, and mailed it off to the Timber Wolf Review, my wife, Martha, came home from work and, just like that, asked me to leave our apartment forever. What's with you? I said, as if I didn't know. She packed my green plaid suitcase, threw toiletries in an overnight bag, and set it all by the kitchen door.

A month earlier, Martha and I had gone on a couple's retreat with some other folks from the parish out at the Trappist monastery in Spencer. The idea of the weekend was to reinvigorate your marriage, renew your vows, and rededicate your life to Jesus. I should tell you I'm not a religious person, and I was more than a little skeptical about the efficacy of this therapeutic undertaking. I doubted that a gang of cloistered celibates would have much to offer us struggling spouses other than the customary Pauline counsel. But then we all got to sharing our feelings so openly, talking about our hopes and fears, and we got so honest and nonjudgmental and everything, and the truth is such a dangerous drug and all, and I was feeling splendid, feeling like the world was pure, refreshing, like some god had created it with humor and generosity, that I was regrettably moved to reveal to Martha the unpleasant truth of my infidelity. I told her about Judi Dubey. But I said, Martha, I'm finished with all that, I promise. That last part was a lie, it turns out.

So as I stood there in the kitchen, my back to the door, hand on my suitcase, I could see that my disclosure had been festering inside Martha all these weeks and had turned her hateful. I told her I loved her. She jabbed me in the stomach with my typewriter. You don't know what love is, she told me, which is probably true. I mean, who does? I asked if we could talk about this. I said, Forgiveness is divine, isn't it? She said, You got what you wanted. Which was also probably true, though I didn't understand it then. I took my last look around the kitchen, trying to secure the details: the cast iron skillet on the stove, the yellow dish towel folded over the handle on the oven door, the crucifix, the wall calendar from Moore's Pharmacy. I knew they'd all wind up in a story some day. A guy like me, who had just given up a career in order to write stories, would be the central character. A story about love and anxiety.

Martha told me to take the goddamn dog and get the hell out. Spot heard the jingle of his leash and came blasting into the kitchen from the parlor and slid right past me into the door. He started barking. I cuffed him one.

Martha shook her head, called me pathetic. "You're thirty-six years old. You're working part-time in a fish-and-chips store, and you're breaking my heart."

Sure, the job thing again. I said, "Martha, you knew I was a writer when you married me."

She laughed. "You haven't published a damn thing in your life."

I said, "Neither did Emily Dickinson."

Spot grabbed his leash and tugged. I told Martha we should talk about this.

She pulled a book of matches from the El Morocco out of her pocket. "Found them in your shirt this morning."

I don't smoke. I lied and said my friend Francis X. has asked me to hold them for him.

"Your shirt smelled like that slut."

When I think about that afternoon now, I wonder if I had acted purposefully, if, in fact, I wanted to get caught, wanted to hurt Martha so badly that she would never take me back. At the time, I imagined I was acting spontaneously, if recklessly, a slave to my late-blooming libido. But infidelity, as you know, is anything but spontaneous. You can't possibly conduct a proper affair without a lot of deliberating, scheming, speculating, and conniving. It's a delicate balance where the excitement must equal the guilt and the sex must be as bright as the future you gamble. Was I no longer in love with Martha? Had I allowed her to become a stranger? If I sound disingenuous, I don't mean to.

"We'll talk about this when you've calmed down," I said. "In the meantime, what about my mail?"

"I'll forward it to you."

I gave her Judi Dubey's address, but not her name.

Reprinted from Love Warps the Mind a Little by John Dufresne copyright (c) 1997. With permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Books Featured In This Story

Love Warps the Mind a Little
Love Warps the Mind a Little

by John Dufresne

Paperback, 315 pages | purchase

close

Purchase Featured Books

  • Love Warps the Mind a Little
  • John Dufresne

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: