If Tom Wolfe had decided to depict the pathetic rather than the ambitious
Aug 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. And his mother insists that this hypochondriacal, gluttonous blob find himself a job. Most of the rest of the book is the story of Ignatius' trying to fit himself-a roundish amorphous peg-into a series of square occupational holes.
The book's ongoing joke is that no one whom he meets in his series of adventures is much more appealing than he is. There is the seventy-ish Miss Trixie desperately trying to retire, Miss Trixie's masochistically inept boss at the decaying Levy Pants Company, We have the hysterically overdrawn Dorian Greene, Queen of the French Quarter and the mercenary Miss Lee, pornographer and tavern keeper. Ignatius' family is similarly creepy: Mom conspires to have him committed as insane and her coterie of friends conspire with her. Their world, and Ignatius' is in a constant state of decay which seems like a good stand-in for their personal and moral decay
It's become orthodox to say that Confederacy of Dunces is a `comic masterpiece' and perhaps it is. I certainly laughed out loud half-a-dozen times. I suspect that later readings of this book will reveal a more fundamental tone of sad and desperate characters none of whom are in the least capable of love and who are therefore, not loveable themselves. This ain't a book you finish with a smile.
The author, John Kennedy Toole committed suicide before the book was published and it's hard to read this novel without that as a subtext. Ignatius is a creature without a future, with nothing to look forward to and everything to be afraid of. There is a creepy sense that the author may have been depicting himself.
If Tom Wolfe had decided to depict the pathetic rather than the ambitious or if Charles Dickens had more of an ear for souls destroyed by boredom, we might have a whole literature of Confederacies. As it is, we have Toole's and it remains worth a visit.
--Lynn Hoffman, author of THE NEW SHORT COURSE IN WINE and the forthcoming novel bang-BANG from Kunati Books. ISBN 9781601640005
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 … more
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 … more
"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....