No Regrets, Coyote, by John Dufresne. W. W. Norton. 352 pages. Hardcover $25.95.
One reason that I found so much to enjoy in this highly original version of Florida noir is that the author seems to have had a blast writing it. It’s as if he responded to the challenge, perhaps offered around the table at a writers’ retreat or watering hole, of placing “No Regrets, Coyote,” a phrase from a Joni Mitchell lyric, into a sentence and then writing a novel titled with the same phrase.
Mr. Dufresne’s novel is filled with the oddball names of its large cast of characters, outlandishly funny puns, all kinds of lists, and friendly symbolism. By naming his neighboring South Florida towns Eden and Melancholy, the author tells all we need to know about the dream and the reality of a material culture sleaze factory that one can, ironically, hold so dear. But he will show us much more.
Meet protagonist Wylie “Coyote” Melville. Wylie, who has a practice as a family and individual therapist, also does volunteer forensic consulting for the Eden Police Department. His special skill, as he puts it (he’s the narrator), is his ability to “read faces and furniture. I can look at a person, at his expressions, his gestures, his clothing, his home, and his possessions, and tell you what he thinks, if not always what he is thinking.” Interesting disclaimer!
In his private practice, Wylie helps his clients “shape their lines into stories, so that the lives finally make some sense. A lack of narrative structure, as you know, will cause anxiety.” Who is Wylie, or Mr. Dufresne, talking to here? Other writers? Book reviewers? How much anxiety will he treat us to?
The case at hand seems to be a murder-suicide: “Five bodies, one weapon, one suspect, much blood,” says Detective Sergeant Carlos O’Brien as he summons Wylie over the phone. Wylie is suspicious of the confession/suicide note typed by one Chafin R. Halliday.
Oh, yeah, it’s Christmas eve.
The novel progresses with Wylie being able to do some investigating, though often roadblocks are set in his path. Just as often, his pursuit of the truth about this massacre is taken off track by the vagaries of Wylie’s own life: episodes involving his family – especially his obnoxious sister Venise and his demented father; episodes involving a wide range of nutty friends and acquaintances; and episodes involving his therapy practice. All provide opportunities for Mr. Dufresne to expand his dazzling portrait of the South Florida milieu. . . .
To enjoy the entire review, as it appears in the August 7, 2013 Fort Myers Florida Weekly, the August 8 Bonita Springs edition, and the August 15 Naples edition, click here: Florida Weekly – Dufresne 1 and here: Florida Weekly – Dufresne 2