JOHNNY TOO BAD
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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.)