Louisiana Power and Light

John Dufresne, Author W. W. Norton & Company $22 (306p) ISBN 978-0-393-03648-0
This first novel by the author of a well-received story collection, The Way That Water Enters Stone , is a wacky Southern Gothic set in small-town Louisiana. Billy Wayne Fontana is the sole survivor of his oddball line of marginal folk, legendary in this backwater for being the most-often-executed and sickest white family in the Delta; and when he acquires a priestly vocation it seems likely he will be the last Fontana. While confessing young Earlene deBastrop, however, he is smitten and marries her; unfaithfulness with Tami Lynne follows, then--miraculously--a second marriage and the birth of two boys, one with a rocky heart, the other a cripple. How perplexed Billy Wayne, intending always the best but fatally impulsive, brings disaster upon himself and his little family is the center of the tale, but it is filled out with a host of ribald walk-on characters: George Dinwaddie, Pakistani exile owner of the Palms Motel and would-be assassin; Vietnam vet Angelo Candella, whose route to the statehouse in Baton Rouge is as a vegetable in a wheelchair; and Dencil Currence, who aspires to be Mr. Reddy Kilowatt for the power company. The narrative is oddly schizophrenic, alternating abruptly between farce and elegy, with some peculiar authorial interpolations (``So where are we?'' ``Now that we've got up a moderate head of narrative steam,'' etc.). And Dufresne cannot seem to escape an unfortunate edge of condescension toward his characters from time to time. It is a skillful, often lively performance, but one that leaves a disconcerting aftertaste. (July)
Reviewed on: 07/04/1994
Release date: 07/01/1994
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