Friday, April 13, 2012

A Confederacy of Dunces; John Kennedy Toole (1980)

Reviewer: Elle Ewok

Rating: 5 Pierogies

Review: My little brother, the literary genius, gave me A Confederacy of Dunces for my birthday. He has a 100% success rate in picking out books for me and this is no exception.

The backstory of A Confederacy of Dunces is worth noting because it is so remarkable. The author was unable to get the book published during his life time and committed suicide at the age of 32. It was published eleven years later and only after his mother successfully harassed novelist Walker Percy into reading the manuscript. Percy was so impressed with the book he had it published by Louisiana State Press (800 copies originally). A year later, Toole was posthumously awarded the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for A Confederacy of Dunces. Since then the book has developed a huge cult following and is considered to be one of the best comedic novels in American literature.

A Confederacy of Dunces tells the story of anti-hero Ignatius J. Reilly, a fat, over-educated weirdo who spends his time harassing his mother and writing indictments on the perversions and failures of society. He is, quite possibly, my favorite character ever written even though he is pretty much a horrible person; a hilarious horrible person. The rest of the book is populated with quirky, politically incorrect (by today's standards) characters whose paths all cross thorughout the book in amusing and clever ways. The book takes place in New Orleans and the culture, language and lifestyle of New Orleans seeps into every word of the book.

The plot line of the book is secondary to the characters and humor but is basically as follows: Ignatius is forced to get a job after his drunk mother causes damage to private property in a car crash and has to pay the bill - shenanigans of all manner ensure in his efforts to enter the workforce. Ignatius has an uncanny ability to cause trouble that reverberates throughout New Orleans in unexpected ways. The humor in this book is the most consistent, clever and entertaining I have ever read. I laughed out loud on almost every single page. The humor is dark but not too dark, really clever but not pretentious, and the writing is actually extremely literary. Although it is a comedy A Confederacy of Dunces, is an extremely literary book and I was blown away by the skill of the author. One can only regret what other masterpieces were lost when he chose to end his life as such a young age.

Hollywood has been trying to make A Confederacy of Dunces into a movie for years unsuccessfully. In fact, the part of Ignatius has come to be considered cursed after numerous actors considered or slated for the part died tragically (Jim Belushi, Chris Farley, John Candy). A version set to be directed by Harold Ramis in the 80s fell apart and a new version set to star Will Farrell in a fat suit has been on hold since at least 2006. I actually could hear Will Farrell delivering some of the lines in my mind as I read the book and I bet it would be hilarious.

There is not much more I can say other than I absolutely adore this book and I want to read it again almost immediately. I am definitely adding it to my all-time-favorite book list. In closing I will leave you with some wisdom from Ignatius J. Reilly:

  • "My respiratory system, unfortunately, is below par. I suspect that I am the result of particularly weak conception on the part of my father. His sperm was probably emitted in a rather offhand manner."
  • "I am at this moment writing a lengthy indictment against our century. When my brain begins to reel from my literary labors, I make an occasional cheese dip."
  • "Your total ignorance of that which you profess to teach merits the death penalty. I doubt whether you would know that St. Cassian of Imola was stabbed to death by his students with their styli. His death, a martyr’s honorable one, made him a patron saint of teachers."
  • "Veneration of Mark Twain is one of the roots of our current intellectual stalemate."               
  • "It's not your fate to be well treated ... You're an overt masochist. Nice treatment will confuse and destroy you."
  • "Mother, I must attend to my bowels. They are revolting against the trauma of the last twenty-four hours."
  • "Like a bitch in heat, I seem to attract a coterie of policemen and sanitation officials. "
  • "Go dangle your withered parts over the toilet!"
  • "This liberal doxy must be impaled upon the member of a particularly large stallion."
And my personal favorite...
  • "Filth ... How dare she pretend to be a virgin. Look at her degenerate face. Rape her!"

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