Set against the tumultuous backdrop of the 1960s, A Confederacy of Dunces is a book unlike any other that I have previously read. I have often heard it referred to as THAT book, a kind of complement coming from those in the know. Having read it, all I can say about it is that THAT book is stupendous on many different levels, from its forceful yet literary bluntness to its all-around observational astuteness, from character development all the way down to the colorful scenes in which New Orleans is "lovingly" depicted. And above all else, the rude, ribaldry and stand-offish humor is just too good of a reading pleasure to pass up, a book that's all laced together into episodic lunacy and idiocy. A Confederacy of Dunces will make you want to read it and read it and read it all over again till it's just torn and tattered. No hyperbole here. Just honesty.
With impeccable writing prowess that is evocative of modern Southern writing, A Confederacy of Dunces just crackles with societal acumen, raunchiness and absurdity.
At the beginning, the main character-Ignatius J. Reilly-a thirtieth, idiosyncratic intellectual lay-about who's better at preaching his doctrine of the end of the world through its vices then he is about truly combatting the influences they hold over him, is in search of a job. It is a deplorable task set by his beleaguered mother, Irene, a not full-blown lush with a penchant for muscatel, whose frayed nerves cause her to crash slightly into a building, whereby she needs to make financial amends. Hence, he is cast out into the wide world, using his own warped ideological thinking and the philosophical beliefs-as espoused by Boethius-as one would clutch onto the Bible and Jesus Christ in order to combat the known modernism of a sometimes off-kilter pop culture. And never mind the Blessed Virgin Mary, whom many people seek in times of woe and confusion (for he and his mom are both semi practicing Catholics), Ignatius has his own female goddess, Fortuna, a kind of feminine Holy Spirit, if you will, who he constantly accuses, till the end, at least, of his misfortune and mea culpa misery.
But once out in the open, to his mother's joy, he becomes a job seeker, and the jobs he falls into, well, it's quite something. He partly wants to pursue this endeavor in order to put Myrna Minkoff, an on and off again friend/girlfriend in her place; she is a bleeding heart bohemian with a guitar who is always involved in one social cause or another. She cares about Ignatius, even sees brilliance in him. Yet, she sees that he is stunted and repressed, and she wants to unlock that. For her, it is all a matter of sex. Once he lets loose, he will be free, for that normal human inclination cannot simply be locked away and forgotten. And Ignatius, much to his credit, certainly does try. She exists in the novel through flashbacks, a series of correspondences and then, in the very end, the two teammates are finally reunited.
While the correspondences between Ignatius and Myrna are entertaining, it's not until Ignatius lands a job with Levy Pants and then Paradise Vendors, a hot dog company, that things just start to blow up. And somehow, it all goes back to the Night of Joy, a dive of a strip bar whose proprietress, Lana Lee, is a money hungary, hard-bitten, cut-throat businesswoman. She's involved in a side pornography photo ring and hates Ignatius with every fiber of her being, for he and his mother entered her "establishment" in the early part of the novel, and she had him pegged as a bizarre freak who was not good for her business. Also in Lee's employ is Darlene and Burman Jones; the former is a ditzy but good-hearted dancer who wants to better herself by doing a classier strip tease involving her pet cockatoo: Harlot O'Hara, the virginal Southern beauty. Quite a show! The latter is the bar's janitor who gets paid below the minimum wage, a sum that he resentfully agrees to, for if he does not, he will get arrested for being a vagrant. Lana Lee surely does take advantage of the Jim Crow attitude, but Jones is ever mindful and ever patient. But his actions are seen throughout the novel and culminate with Lana Lee's eventual morals charge arrest alongside those of a couple of mannish and violent lesbians. And Angelo Mancuso's rise, from incompetent police officer who initially tried to arrest Ignatius at the beginning of the novel, to top-notch cop. There are so many interlocking stories that offer equal hilarity, for these are just snippets.
A Confederacy of Dunces is truly a cyclone of inventiveness, word play, colorfulness and sheer storytelling. All the characters who encounter Ignatius either get their just deserts or reap positive benefits from their meeting. The characters Gus Levy, Burma Jones, Angelo Mancuso and Miss Trixie are cases in point who benefit from their encounter with Ignatius. The story first and foremost is about the man Ignatius, a true brother to Don Quixote, a bloated, long-winded fat slob who thinks that the world is screwed up and he's the only normal one in it. It's actually a relatable kind of thinking. Stop the world. I want to get off. I know I've said that more often than not. It is about the interlocking idiots who make up our lives, the confederacy of individuals either for us or against us. But at heart, there is goodness. There is just a short supply of tolerance in dealing with them. And Ignatius is the exemplar in the testing of that tolerance. A great book.