A favorite novel by “a generous and lyric storyteller” (San Francisco Chronicle) known for his tragicomic voice and unforgettable characters.
With his signature tragicomic voice and a cast of unforgettable and lively characters, John Dufresne explores love, death, imagination, and memory. Deep in the Shade of Paradise is a rollicking romance, a comedy about small-town eccentrics teetering on the brink of despair, and a delicious portrait of the American South at the cusp of the twenty-first century. Dufresne’s shimmering, multi-layered narrative is comprised of anecdotes, armchair philosophy, folk tales, jokes, letters, songs, and menus, all held together by the story of a family bending in on itself with jealousy, mourning, and love.
In Deep in the Shade of Paradise—something of a sequel to Dufresne’s much-acclaimed debut novel Louisiana Power and Light—the curative swamp water and wildlife at Shiver-de-Freeze conspire with the Fontanas once more to create a tale of love run amok in the ruins of memory and the frayed ends of dreams. Dufresne counts even himself among the myriad assortment of freaks, adulterers, artists, country-and-western singers, hair stylists, and Pentecostal preachers who gather to celebrate the wedding of Grisham Loudermilk and Ariane Thevenot at Paradise, the Fontanas’ ancestral home.
Dufresne’s previous books include The Way that Water Enters Stone, Louisiana Power & Light, and Love Warps the Mind a Little. When asked to give a little background on what led him to write this new novel, Dufrsene offered this combination of thoughts:
“There was a promise at the end of Louisiana Power & Light, that promise being the birth of a child and the continuation of the Fontana family. So these few years later I decided to find out about that boy, what he was like, and what he was up to. Wanting to know who Boudou was led me to Shiver-de-Freeze, a town with its own time zone, a place apart, where anything, apparently, could happen. Now, you have to write about what’s important to you, what you don’t understand, what keeps you up at night. So I knew I’d be writing about death and love and self and identity, and then when I found out that Boudou had an eidetic memory, I realized that I’d be exploring the past and how it shapes us, and thinking about memory led me to consider imagination, and so it went. One notion leads to another.
“When I finished a draft of the book, I realized that more than anything else the novel is about family and community, and about telling stories. It’s about the importance of our personal stories—we are what we remember and what we imagine—and our collective stories—there is no family without a family story, no community without a community story. And it is family and community, in the end, that redeem us, that provide the only salvation we get in this world. (I came across a line by Ayn Rand this week: “Civilization is the process of setting man free from men.” I stand as far from those sentiments as possible. I find them arrogant, appalling, and sad.) Telling stories connects the teller and the tale to the told. And stories are everywhere in Deep in the Shade of Paradise. Stories are the digressions that enliven our journey, the lies that tell the truth.”
- Two of Dufresne’s major preoccupations are memories and dreams. Sometimes they seem to be one in the same. Define the difference between the two, and how they overlap.
- Is Adlai really in love with Ariane, or just with the idea of being in love?
- Dufresne’s writing has been compared to a wide variety of notable American voices: the storytelling talent of John Irving, the dark compassion of Flannery O’Connor, and the ear for the vernacular of Mark Twain. Are other influences detectable in Deep in the Shade of Paradise? How does the novel fit into the rich literary heritage of the South?
- Dufresne’s depiction of religious fervor in Shiver-de-Freeze, farcical though it is, is one of his most impassioned. Describe his take on religion in the contemporary South.
- Alvin Lee’s creed shows that religion doesn’t always measure up to a familiar spiritual ideal. But Dufresne doesn’t seem entirely cynical about Alvin’s faith. Why is this? Is there a place for spirituality in Shiver-de-Freeze?
- What do you make of Dufresne’s appendix? Why not just include these anecdotes and details within the novel’s chapters?
- How does Dufresne’s incorporation of himself, his editor, and his reader as characters, so to speak, affect the narrative? Does it tamper with the narrative’s plausibility?
- How does contemporary pop culture play into Dufresne’s storytelling?
- Describe the father and son roles that Royce and Boudou come to fill for each other.
- There are many romantic relationships in this book: Grisham and Ariane, Adlai and Ariane, Grisham and Miranda, Earlene and Varden, Royce and Benning, Alvin and Lorraine and Ouda, Boudou and the Tous-les-Deux twins. It’s a pretty broad portrait of love—what can we learn from it?
- Describe Shiver-de-Freeze as a community. What holds it together?
- Describe the differences between Ariane and Miranda. How does each fulfill Grisham’s needs? How about Adlai’s needs?
- Why does Earlene go to see Dolphus Higdon?
- How does Deep in the Shade of Paradise parallel Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream both thematically and structurally?
- Boudou’s memory seems super-human. Is this a blessing or a curse?
- What’s postmodern about Deep in the Shade of Paradise? What other forms of literary analysis might prove useful in explaining what Dufresne achieves through his experimentation?
- In the appendix’s fifth entry, Dufresne talks about the standard structure for plot development through various visual diagrams. Then he illustrates the structure of Deep in the Shade of Paradise with a squiggly line. Is this accurate? Draw your own diagram to describe the novel.
About John Dufresne
John Dufresne is the author of six novels, including No Regrets, Coyote. Among other honors, he has received a Guggenheim Fellowship and is a professor in the MFA program at Florida International University. He lives in Dania Beach, Florida.
Books by John Dufresne
A favorite novel by “a generous and lyric storyteller” (San Francisco Chronicle) known for his tragicomic voice and unforgettable characters.More
“If Raymond Chandler were reincarnated as a novelist in south Florida, he couldn’t nail it any better than John Dufresne.”—Carl HiaasenMore
"Belongs on the shelf alongside John Gardner's The Art of Fiction and E. M. Forster's Aspects of the Novel."—Steve YarbroughMore