The ever-colorful, mercurial Dufresne follows his acclaimed debut novel, Louisianan Power and Light (1994), with a finely balanced tale about how love's baffling turns both complicate and enrich the midlife of a struggling writer. 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.