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A Confederacy of Dunces

A book by John Kennedy Toole

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A Tragic Masterpiece

  • Aug 19, 2007
I first read John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces not too long after its initial publication and I remember being particularly saddened by the fact that such a talented writer had committed suicide even before his first book had been published. I found it incredibly sad that the world had been deprived of such a talent and wondered what might have been. But, despite the fact that the book has been on my shelves for more than two decades, and all my good intentions, I never got around to revisiting the book until the last couple of weeks. What finally got me off center and back into Ignatius J. Riley's world was finding an audio version of the book at my local library.

A Confederacy of Dunces centers on Ignatius J. Riley, a 30-year old, over-educated mama's boy who still lives at home and refuses to work for a living, preferring instead to live off of his mother's tiny income. And those are his good points. He was further described in Library Journal as "a fat, flatulent, gluttonous, loud, lying, hypocritical, self-deceiving, self-centered blowhard who masturbates to memories of a dog and pretends to profundity when he is only full of beans." All true enough, but the fun begins when Ignatius is suddenly arrested for vagrancy by a suspicious New Orleans policeman desperate to impress his police department superiors.

Ignatius soon finds himself half-heartedly looking for gainful employment in order to help pay the damages caused when Irene, his often-tipsy mother backed into the wall of a downtown New Orleans business. Eventually Ignatius manages to find work at two different businesses desperate enough to hire even someone like him. Levy Pants and Paradise Vendors, Inc. would never be the same after Riley's few weeks as a Levy Pants file clerk and a Paradise Vendors "weenie vendor."

Along the way, we meet a cast of New Orleans characters who, for one reason or another, forever have their lives changed by coming into contact with Mr. Riley: Patrolman Mancuso who so desperately wants to arrest someone, anyone, in order to get back in uniform; Miss Trixie, near 80-years old and wondering why in the world she's not allowed to retire from Levy Pants; Darlene, the stripper who's highest ambition is to work on stage with her pet bird; Miss Lee, Darlene's employer, who has a nice little dirty picture business going on the side; Dorian Greene, a blatantly gay man who hosts a disastrous party for his friends with Ignatius as the main attraction; Gomez, the pathetic office manager at Levy Pants; Mr. Levy, inheritor and hater of the family business; Myrna, the northerner "girlfriend" whom Ignatius loves to hate; and Jones the old black man coerced by Miss Lee to work at the strip club at way less than minimum wage and who gained his ultimate revenge.

It took me a while to warm up to Ignatius J. Riley because, obviously, the man doesn't have a whole lot going for him. I actively disliked him at first but he was so intriguing a character that I kept turning pages until I came to realize that my disgust for the man had turned into a strange hope that he would somehow manage to prevail in his attempts to remain a "free agent" in the world, someone above life's everyday troubles. By the end of the novel I even found myself liking the man despite his skills at so selfishly manipulating everyone around him.

The audio version of A Confederacy of Dunces is read by Barrett Whitener who adds much to the book's characters by supplying them with the various ethnic accents required to fully bring them to life. In particular, Mr. Whitener made me laugh just about any time that he bellowed "Oh my god" in Riley's voice because I knew that another Ignatius J. Riley rant was on the way.

John Kennedy Toole was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for A Confederacy of Dunces when it was finally published. What a shame that he was gone too soon to see it.

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More A Confederacy of Dunces reviews
review by . November 19, 2007
A wonderfully funny novel -- with a protagonist so bizarre and beyond the pale that a reader almost longs for him to go away -- this book is a marvel of nuttiness and despair. Though it feels less weighty and far less politically correct than many other Pulitzer Prize winners, the award does not suprise me in the least. That it was awarded posthumously -- the author a suicide long before publication -- overhangs the book with an air of irredeemable loss which only contributes to the reading. The …
review by . August 30, 2006
New Orleanian Ignatius J. Reilly is monstrously fat. The corners of his mouth sink "into little folds filled with dasaproval and potato chip crumbs". The reader can almost smell his stale odor wafting off the page. He's lazy, unbearably prudish and arrogant, a thirty something agoraphobic who lives at home with his mother and writes hilariously bad prose in the service of a pretend book on medeival and modern civilizations.     He is shrill and dishonest, both selfish and self-deluded. …
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Sam Sattler ()
Ranked #252
Oil company professional of almost 40 years experience who has worked in oil-producing countries around the world. I love books, baseball and bluegrass music and hope to dedicate myself to those hobbies … more
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About this book


"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....

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ISBN-10: 0807126063
ISBN-13: 978-0807126066
Author: John Kennedy Toole
Genre: Literature & Fiction
Publisher: Louisiana State University Press
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