Johnny Too Bad

( 1 )


A collection by "a generous and lyric storyteller" (San Francisco Chronicle) known for his tragicomic voice and his unforgettable and lively characters.
In John Dufresne's stories people are caught unawares by trouble and opportunity in the act of going about their daily lives. A romantic woman, involved with her married boss, is proposed to by a Bulgarian on a tourist visa in search of a green card and must choose between a wedding and a love affair. A doctor who has killed two...

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A collection by "a generous and lyric storyteller" (San Francisco Chronicle) known for his tragicomic voice and his unforgettable and lively characters.
In John Dufresne's stories people are caught unawares by trouble and opportunity in the act of going about their daily lives. A romantic woman, involved with her married boss, is proposed to by a Bulgarian on a tourist visa in search of a green card and must choose between a wedding and a love affair. A doctor who has killed two women escorts a flamboyant woman home to tell her about his rage and her foolishness. Four young brothers wander into a man's backyard claiming to be foster children. They share lunch and search for the foster home that doesn't exist. After a man tells his wife that he's leaving her and his children for his new lover, he's found dead in the morning. It's up to our literary hero to solve the mystery—murder, he wrote. A cross between William Faulkner (Times-Picayune) and John Irving (Detroit Free Press), Dufresne once again masterfully charts the power of truth and lies and the magic hidden in the mundane.

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Editorial Reviews

New Orleans Times-Picayune
“Unfolds like a dream . . . a deliciously readable collection.”
New York Times Book Review
“[There is] verbal dexterity everywhere in evidence in Johnny Too Bad . . . and a brilliant literary detective story that’s worth the price of admission on its own.”
San Francisco Chronicle
“Dufresne has a knack for knowing what people think and, more specifically, how people think. . . . With this collection, he bores a hole into his brain and peels back the layers so that we can take a look inside: neuroses, secret whims, private desires.”
Mark Kamine
It may take a devoted dog lover to appreciate all the canine lore, though there's enough humor (almost) to make up for it. And here and there Dufresne hits real depths of emotion, as in the three-page story, ''Lefty,'' in which a father imagines all the ways he will miss his son — and all the ways his son will make up for it.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
A smalltown policeman obsessed with a crime of passion; a hyperactive hound who prefers a Barbie to a bone. The vagaries of man and beast are fodder for acclaimed novelist Dufresne (Louisiana Power & Light, etc.) in his energetic second collection. Southern Florida is the setting, a place whose sultry clime seems to foster off-kilter displays. (Indeed, Dufresne's relentlessly skewed perspective means these 18 stories are best savored over the course of several days.) Florida is "tough on fiction writers," says the narrator of "Squeeze the Feeling." "How do you compete with daily life?" Dufresne writes of the betrayals that level romantic relationships, wondering how "you could go from finishing each other's sentences to not talking for twenty years." In the 18 linked entries of the title story, a woman has a love child with Bigfoot, a dog named Spot performs Shakespeare (sort of: he runs for the door when an ersatz Lady Macbeth rubs her hands and orders him "out") and two lovers wait out a tornado by curling up in a tub. "Life doesn't get any sweeter when you grow up," laments betrayed husband Rance in "Talk, Talk, Talk." But in the writings of Dufresne, whose tales are marinated in melancholy and sprinkled with wit, it is the piquant nature of the journey that keeps readers engaged. Agent, Richard P. McDonough. (Feb.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
This latest from Dufresne (Louisiana Power & Light) is a novella intertwined with several short stories conceivably written by the narrator himself. Johnny's life is complicated by his dog, Spot, who rambunctiously steals the neighbor's Barbie doll, breaks up a dog party in the park, and bites the veterinarian, and by his relationship with Annick, which starts to fall apart as a hurricane approaches their Florida community. A woman he meets in a bar tells him that her affair with a married man has ended in his death, an event related in the next story. Other stories focus on love and hope: a woman in love with her boss agrees to marry an alien for money, and a trucker can't find a place to rest on his drive to his parent's home. In the end, the stories are intriguing, the characters worth knowing, and the adventures of John and Spot comical and moving. Recommended for larger fiction collections.-Joshua Cohen, Mid-Hudson Lib. Syst., Poughkeepsie, NY Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Novelist Dufresne (Deep in the Shade of Paradise, 2002, etc.) meanders through 18 stories, set mostly in Florida's Broward County, offering a spot of charm but little by way of real satisfaction. The title story, the most substantial of the lot, is a rambling account of Hurricane Fritzy's approach to the Florida coast as the narrator, his estranged girlfriend, Annick, and his undisciplined dog Spot remain among those who do not evacuate ("it's futile to think what if? about your life, but I've been doing it since I was a kid"). Dufresne's ruminating, associative, plot-resistant narrative manner is, at its best, casual and neighborly, but more frequently it's just plain slow. About a third of the stories are too sketchy to bear up under scrutiny-two- to three-page bits that deliver little. The least appealing is the fragment "Breaking It Down for You," with a man whining that he was "provoked" to explain why he killed his girlfriend's two-year-old. "Talk Talk Talk," weightier, spans the 30 years of the marriage of an unfaithful wife and the man who stays with her despite her affairs. As she lies dying, the husband thinks, "You don't walk out on responsibility. You take heart." The suspenseful "Based on a True Story," about Curtis, who kills a couple of women who irritate him, is told primarily in list form: "7. Curtis's wealthy and connected parents hire a costly and brilliant attorney from Shreveport to defend him," for example, or "9. The charming, gifted and handsome attorney is struck by lightning and killed. (Truth is stranger than fiction)." This approach moves the action along quickly as, in chilling fashion, it illuminates a psychopathic killer driving an inebriated young womanhome. The two strongest stories-"Johnny Too Bad" and "Squeeze the Feeling" (Annick becomes pregnant, then loses the baby)-stand out for their sharply observed portrait of a man's wistful connections to his carefree dog and to the independent woman in his life. Overall, a disappointing first collection.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393328714
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 5/22/2006
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

John Dufresne is the author of seven books, including the New York Times Notable Books Love Warps the Mind a Little and Louisiana Power & Light. He teaches in the Creative Writing Department at Florida International University and lives in Dania Beach.

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Table of Contents

Lemonade and Paris burns 3
I will eat a piece of the roof and you can eat the window 7
You're at Macy's, killing time, when it hits you 32
Based on a true story 35
Epithalamion 46
Electric limits of our widest senses 54
Arlis & Ivy 64
The dead of night 66
Talk talk talk 81
Congratulations, you may already be 95
Johnny too bad 98
Around the world 150
Who are they who are like clouds? 152
Breaking it down for you 164
Close by me forever 166
Died and gone to heaven 177
Lefty 204
Squeeze the feeling 207
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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 20, 2005

    The Godiva of Storytellers

    John Dufresne's new book of stories is much like my box of Valentine's Godiva chocolates: I want it to last Forever. I try desperately to restrain my indulgence. But the complex textures, the bite of the bittersweet, the soothing of the lush soft centers, the discordant scrape of nut against tooth like an unwelcome truth, even the crinkle of the thin slips of foil that sounds like whispers of kisses; forgotten, remembered. I put the shiny red heart box on top of the refrigerator - I put Johnny Too Bad on my nightstand. From opposite ends of the hallway they tease me. I keep responding, and I'm not sorry in the least about giving in to either. I thank all that is holy for the tiny assaults of grief and the lingering embraces of grace that John Dufresne's characters and tales weave into my life (Lemonade and Paris Buns, Lefty). They fill me up, they change me, they make me better. My prayer is that John Dufresne will give birth to more and more stories; and Soon. I'll be waiting.

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