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 In his first novel, Dufresne extends the exploits of the Fontana family, introduced in his highly touted collection of stories, The Way That Water Enters Stone (1991). But devices that might be amusing in a short story do not necessarily have enough weight to sustain a longer work. Billy Wayne, last of the Fontana line, is brought together with other eccentric characters, all of whom live in close proximity to Monroe, La. (pop. 56,000). Billy Wayne was about to enter the priesthood when he met a woman in the hospital and ran off with her. They spend their first night in a field, then move to a decrepit motel sold to a gullible Pakistani. Initially, these miscast outcasts are put forth with true Southern flourish. Except we soon realize Dufresne is rambling on about his characters' lives, never once entering their emotions or examining their motives. Even when the Pakistani loses his motel or is held in jail, his response is glossed over with cold, generic statements such as ``my heart aches.'' Later, when Fox Ledbetter commits suicide, a chapter is devoted to Billy Wayne's last evening with him, but few readers will remember who Fox Ledbetter is (so facile were his previous appearances). This lapse of memory is not surprising: The plot is continually interrupted by narratives about minor characters. Dufresne wastes so much time telling readers he's telling a story and expounding on the art of storytelling that we lose interest in the characters and, thus, in the story. A more daring writer might have been able to handle this text-within-text commentary, and the flitting from character to character, by finding some formal innovations to suit the purpose. But despite a few experimental passages, the writing here is fairly conventional and conventionally boring.

Pub Date: July 11th, 1994
ISBN: 0-393-03648-0
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 1994


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