Eric's Reviews > A Confederacy of Dunces

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
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's review
Jan 16, 08

Recommended for: Anyone who has ever felt like the smartest guy in the room. Thomas Aquinas fans.
Read in January, 2008

Quick, funny, engrossing, but am I the only one who felt the book could use a little "more"? Criticizing Toole seems to anger his fans and be somewhat akin to spitting on his tragically-departed soul, but even without my own Pulitzer I feel I can still point to certain areas and ask, "Whaaa?"

The characters are distinct and entertaining but not necessarily well-developed or understood. At times some just strike me as functional. It seems a shame because so many of them have wonderful teaser personalities. I WANTED to know them better, but was often denied. There is a certain lack of exposition in the novel that struck me at times like I was reading a 400+ page play/screenplay. Action. Action. Action. With the exception of Ignatius and Myrna's letters, we don't often see substantive thoughts from many other characters. And I don't buy, "Because they're idiots!" Even idiots have thoughts, reflections, and it strikes me as yet another opportunity to get a laugh at their expense or maybe even bond with the more pitiful for a change. For example, with Patrolman Mancuso reflecting on his dreadful situation nearly passing out on the toilet.

For a novel that the forward dubbed a "commedia" the characters don't ALL have to be deeply engaging and relate to the reader, but the motivations of some fairly key people sometimes make you shrug your shoulders and say, "Whatever. Must be a New Orleans thing." Like Ignatius' mother. She's a character throughout almost the entire novel, and there's some attempt to make her grow, but it feels sort of kludged on for reasons I don't understand (except to provide some convenient excuses for more action, something we see time and again). Other characters are stagnant, or again, any development is almost always a plot device. Am I seeing things in the character issues, or are they really there in the book? Hard to tell when the work is so highly regarded. Few of the other characters grow, or at least only manage to change in minor ways. Even with Ignatius, what the heck is he doing at the end? It's not that I feel I don't "get" the ending, but with so many of the sidebars so creative that's what we're given as an ending?

The series of misadventures is funny, a fast read, and gives you what you can only assume is a good insight into the lunacy of New Orleans in that era. There are certainly deep elements like the parallels between the Consolation of Philosophy and certain geographic jokes/references about positioning in New Orleans. You've got your symbols, you've got some themes, all the elements of a great book are present... and yet... In the end, I wasn't left with a deeply satisfied feeling that I'd read a good story. I really enjoyed the book, but darned if I can summarize the plot or tell you what it's about. I read somewhere that the first publisher rejected it saying, "It's not really about anything." Having finished it, I tend to agree. Yes I understood Ignatius. Yes I've been in those kinds of situations. Yes there are times when I cringed noticing elements of my own thoughts in those of Ignatius. That makes him an excellent character, but does not leave the book 5-star worthy in my mind. "Confederacy" is a fairly conventionally-written novel and therefore caused me to expect certain conventional elements. When those didn't manifest I thought, "Huh? Then what was that all about?"
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message 1: by DP (new) - rated it 5 stars

DP You offer a smart critique. "Confederacy" is almost there, in its grotesque hilarity underpinned by sadness and ultimate truths it is almost a perfect specimen of Southern Gothic, and letters itself. Sadly, we're only left to wonder about how great it could have been, had it been fully honed by a skillful and sensitive editor.


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