Lafayette Proulx wants to be a writer. Badly. And unlike most wannabe authors he actually does write every day. The growing pile of rejection slips, ranging from the standard printout to vitriolic replies from 22-year-old editors are disheartening. But then most things in Proulx’s life are pretty disheartening: his split from his wife Teresa, his moving in with his new girlfriend Judi (who he knows he really doesn’t love enough), his failed therapy, Judi’s sociopathic trailer-trash family… But Lafayette keeps plugging away. He knows he will get it right one day. But when Judi becomes ill, it has to be sooner rather than later.
Novels about writers writing run big risks of being thinly disguised autobiography, excruciatingly pretentious or just really dull. Love Warps the Mind a Little is none of these things. John Dufresne has managed to create a world for Lafayette that we can be certain is fictional – and Lafayette himself creates his own, unique world of fiction within Dufresne’s novel. This is a terrific accomplishment – Dufresne’s characters are weird and wonderful, but quite ordinary too; Lafayette’s characters are equally fascinating and quirky but contrive to be quite different from those inhabiting the novel’s “real” world. Both these worlds are funny, convincing and very engaging. And when Lafayette’s world starts getting darker, the story gets better: the novel moves from light, slightly wacky tale, to a powerful affirmation of humanity. If that sounds pretentious, it isn’t. This is simply a very clever book with loads of compassion – one of those rare beasts: a clever good read and a love story which can’t be simply pigeonholed as schmalz.
Reviewed by Sara Rance