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John Dufresne: Louisiana Power & Light

Wacky Southern Gothic is how some reviewers described this novel, which may be an accurate description but does not quite get all of the picture. Maybe I should have a wacky Southern Gothic section to discuss this theme further. The novel is set in Monroe, Louisiana, described in the prologue as the corrugated paper capital of the North Delta Parishes. The novel is about Monroe but it is also about Billy Wayne Fontana and the Fontana family. The family is descended from Peregrine Fontana, who rose up out of the sticky, primordial ooze in about 1840. Though, as the late lamented Dr. Rexito Graves showed in his monograph, Billy Wayne has therefore only one thirty-second of Peregrine’s genes, he feels the curse of the clan. His first wife was Earlene Fontana, the country and western singer, but Billy Wayne could not make love to her because he was afraid of producing genetically defective children. He had been a novitiate priest but when Earlene had come to him for confession (which he was not authorised to give) he fell for her and off they went.

But it hadn’t worked out and Billy had been unfaithful with and then married Tami Lynne. They had two children – Moon Pie and Duane – but both had problems, one with heart problems, the other with flippers. But with Billy Wayne working nights, the couple barely saw each other and Tami Lynne starts having an affair with Russell Sikes and then left Billy. Billy set off with Duane, travelling around the country but, eventually returned home. However, the curse of the Fontanas struck again and again and it all ended tragically. In between, however, Dufresne has given us a wide range of characters and scenes – from the Great Books Club to George Dinwaddle, the assassin, from Vietnam vet Angelo Candella to Tami Lynne’s failed boyfriend, Russell. Earlene’s country and western songs and the Great Books Club act as a witty chorus to life in Monroe and life, in particular, in the doomed Fontana family. Wacky Southern comedy, yes, but there is more to Dufresne’s story, about life and how we cope with it.

Publishing history

First published 1994 by Norton