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Lafayette (Laf) Proulx gives up teaching high school in Worcester, Massachusetts, to write, a breach of security for which his milquetoast wife Martha never forgives him—so he leaves her, too, taking his dog with him. Moving in with Judi, a therapist he'd already been having an affair with, he discovers with a shock that he was more welcome as a married man, but he sets up his typewriter and bangs away anyway, ignoring Judi's ambivalence and making the best of the steady stream of rejection slips he receives from literary magazines. He takes an interest in Judi's stories of her past incarnations, and in her pill-popping, trailer-trash family, even when a sister's slaughterhouse boyfriend murders her ex-con husband. The storytelling possibilities of his new life, however, are suddenly arrested, first when he develops writer's block, then when Judi is diagnosed with uterine cancer. As a hysterectomy followed by chemotherapy fails to halt the cancer's spread, Laf helplessly watches his lover waste away before he and she had really had a chance to give their relationship a solid footing. A New Age therapist gives Judi a clearer understanding of her connection to Laf through the centuries, helping her to reconcile herself to her imminent death. Through pain and revelation, Laf stands by her, giving selflessly, and when she's gone, he discovers that he's gained something vital in return.
Strong, quirky characters coping honestly with life's misfortune make this a quiet success. Dufresne has written a funny, profoundly accomplished saga of love and loss.
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 couples 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 thekitchen, 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. had 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.
Posted April 26, 2003
The fact that Mr. Dufresne tackles the serious subject of terminal illness, while incorporating dry humor throughout the novel, speaks volumes of his talent as a writer. The story never turns into a sappy mess. Instead, Mr. Dufresne leads all of his characters on the road of self-discovery which ultimately allows them to positively alter their lives in the process. Heartbreaking, insightful, full of subtle humor, this novel deserves more recognition.
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Posted January 23, 2009
I've read my share of lame books. I don't come across very many that I really enjoy. I thought the title was a bit cliche, but thought I'd give it a chance. I like how the author never straight off defines the duties of love, but dances around it with "this one time... or.. I remember when..". Gives love characther with short stories. <BR/>It's not a sappy story, it has bits and pieces of chuckle moments.<BR/>Also includes, "did you know?" or just plain facts that relate.<BR/>I highly recommendWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.