Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Louisiana Power and Light, by John Dufresne

Note to self: next time read John Dufresne on vacation! His novels have so many well-drawn characters, all of whom are connected through odd circumstances. As it was, reading a little bit a day, I found myself leafing back through the book several times, trying to remember who they all were, and how they were related.

The novel, much like his later Requiem, Mass., rattles along at breakneck speed, scattering colorful details and random erudition in its wake. This is a very funny book, which veers fearlessly into tragedy. I am reminded of Larry McMurtry, another author who is not afraid to kill off absolutely any character, and usually just as you've come to love them.

Billy Wayne Fontana is the last of a cursed tribe. The Fontana clan runs exclusively to male progeny, who are often deformed at birth, and rarely make it to childbearing age. Which may be just as well, considering the trouble they get themselves into as adults. As the last living Fontana, it looks as though Billy Wayne may have escaped the family fate. He is almost done with seminary when he meets Earlene deBastrop, and his life veers into maelstrom of love and expectation.

Much of this book is taken up with the question of whether one can avoid one's fate, and the corollary question, do our expectations determine the trajectory of our lives? I got a little bogged down with Billy Wayne's travels down this road. Mostly, he seems to have avoided acting on many of his good impulses. The resulting downward spiral belies the hopeful beginning, which should probably come as no surprise, given the narrator's dire predictions.

I do think I might have enjoyed this novel more had I read it more quickly; unfinished books eventually become tiresome. It is funny, fast-paced, and filled with memorable characters.

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