ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
And I'm Melissa Block.
Now, a recommendation from our series You Must Read This. Julia Glass won the National Book Award for her debut novel "Three Junes." And today, she has this recommendation of a novel she didn't expect to love.
Ms. JULIA GLASS (Author, "Three Junes"): Before I tell you how I fell for this book, let me list a few things about it that would normally have led me to toss it aside. Begin with a title that's just too clever: "Love Warps the Mind a Little."
The smart-ass narrator is Lafayette Proulx, whose cutesy French name shadows the name of the author John 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, and fast-food cooks. I avoid circus novels too.
Why did I read it? Because it was pressed into my hands by Joe DeSalvo of Faulkner House Books 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 trickster who lurks on the sidelines while furniture flies, men misbehave and women weep.
He riffs brilliantly on childhood, parenthood, desire, religion, cancer, 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 defies yet 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.
BLOCK: Julia Glass is the author of the novels "I See You Everywhere" and "Three Junes." Her pick for You Must Read This is "Love Warps the Mind a Little" by John Dufresne. You can read an excerpt and find more book recommendations at npr.org.