LAFAYETTE PROULX HAS quit teaching high-school English after 12 years and taken a job at a fish 'n' chip shop to pursue his dream of fiction writing. This, coupled with his infidelity, precipitates his wife to kick him out and forces him to move in with his lover. Proulx shares similarities with another emotionally reticent, confused, middle-aged man learning for himself--John Updike's Rabbit. But in a world where nothing's new, what's important is how the old has been reconstituted: Love Warps the Mind a Little, Dufresne's second novel, is fresh-squeezed and delightful, delivering the tragicomic thrills of his first novel, Louisiana Power & Light, with the same outrageous imagination evidenced in his story collection, The Way That Water Enters Stone.
The book is richly populated with interesting characters, from the dysfunctional and endearing white trash family of Judi, Proulx's lover, to a rogue's gallery of modern adversaries: incompetent dentists, vitriolic editors, New Age healers, and marriage counselors who dare to take sides. But the story goes beyond amusing portraiture, resonating with Dufresne's insights on the way habit steals our lives, making us stifle choice for the sake of comfort; how illness changes our perceptions of ourselves; or how loss frames our life and memories.
As Proulx tackles his issues--partly with the help of the protagonist/alter-ego in his ongoing short story--he faces up to Judi's Stage IV cancer, whose onset in the middle of the book changes it from an enjoyable romp to something increasingly poignant and disturbing. Dufresne has a way of insinuating his deftly drawn prose into your favor, advancing his ideas with subtle deliberation before discharging them forcefully into your consciousness.