Sunday, March 26, 2017

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

Title: A Confederacy of Dunces
Author: John Kennedy Toole
Genre: Humor
Published: 1980
Pages: 417


"A green hunting cap squeezed the top of the fleshy balloon of a head. The green earflaps, full of large ears and uncut hair and the fine bristles that grew in the ears themselves, stuck out on either side like turn signals indicating two directions at once. Full, pursed lips protruded beneath the bushy black moustache and, at their corners, sank into little folds filled with disapproval and potato chip crumbs."

Meet Ignatius J. Reilly, the hero of John Kennedy Toole's tragicomic tale, A Confederacy of Dunces. This 30-year-old medievalist lives at home with his mother in New Orleans, pens his magnum opus on Big Chief writing pads he keeps hidden under his bed, and relays to anyone who will listen the traumatic experience he once had on a Greyhound Scenicruiser bound for Baton Rouge. ("Speeding along in that bus was like hurtling into the abyss.") But Ignatius's quiet life of tyrannizing his mother and writing his endless comparative history screeches to a halt when he is almost arrested by the overeager Patrolman Mancuso--who mistakes him for a vagrant--and then involved in a car accident with his tipsy mother behind the wheel. One thing leads to another, and before he knows it, Ignatius is out pounding the pavement in search of a job.

Over the next several hundred pages, our hero stumbles from one adventure to the next. His stint as a hotdog vendor is less than successful, and he soon turns his employers at the Levy Pants Company on their heads. Ignatius's path through the working world is populated by marvelous secondary characters: the stripper Darlene and her talented cockatoo; the septuagenarian secretary Miss Trixie, whose desperate attempts to retire are constantly, comically thwarted; gay blade Dorian Greene; sinister Miss Lee, proprietor of the Night of Joy nightclub; and Myrna Minkoff, the girl Ignatius loves to hate. The many subplots that weave through A Confederacy of Dunces are as complicated as anything you'll find in a Dickens novel, and just as beautifully tied together in the end. But it is Ignatius--selfish, domineering, and deluded, tragic and comic and larger than life--who carries the story. He is a modern-day Quixote beset by giants of the modern age. His fragility cracks the shell of comic bluster, revealing a deep streak of melancholy beneath the antic humor. John Kennedy Toole committed suicide in 1969 and never saw the publication of his novel. Ignatius Reilly is what he left behind, a fitting memorial to a talented and tormented life.


I found a copy of this book in the pocket of a pair of Levi jeans that I bought used at a thrift store. How the heck the previous owner got the book into the pocket, I do not know, but that's where it was. I figured I might as well read it since I had it. 

This book was almost like a modern day Canterbury Tales, with only one character telling stories. The language was far easier to understand than Canterbury Tales as well, thank god, or I might never have been able to finish it. Honestly, you'd think Chaucer didn't even know how to speak English with the way he wrote, just a whole bunch of gibberish that he tried to pass of as English. How anyone could ever understand that I don't know. 

Back to Confederacy of Dunces though. The adventures of Ignatius often left me cringing. Some of the scrapes he got himself into were almost too painful to read about for me because they may or may not have mirrored my own life just a little too much at times. I may or may not have been mistaken for a vagrant a time or two in my younger days, and I can certainly relate to how hard slinging wienies can be. But the book was also like a train wreck, I just couldn't look away. I needed to know what kind of mess Ignatius would get himself into next. I just had to. 

Overall I give A Confederacy of Dunces two thumbs up. 

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About the Author

John Kennedy Toole was an American novelist from New Orleans, Louisiana, best known for his novel A Confederacy of Dunces.

Toole's novels remained unpublished during his lifetime. Some years after his death by suicide, Toole's mother brought the manuscript of A Confederacy of Dunces to the attention of the novelist Walker Percy, who ushered the book into print. In 1981 Toole was posthumously awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

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