Kyle's Reviews > A Confederacy of Dunces

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
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Apr 14, 09

bookshelves: comedy, fiction
Read from May 07 to October 01, 2012

A Confederacy of Dunces is a classic picaresque novel, following the loathsome Ignatius Reilly through 1960s New Orleans. It's an arch, jagged assembly of ineffectively cartoonish or ineffectively banal characters. Worthwhile of course, but not great. Similar to Joseph Heller's Catch-22, another cornerstone of American comedic literature that actually isn't very funny.

A Confederacy of Dunce's author, John Kennedy Toole, was a struggling writer who, after one too many rejections, killed himself at 31. That suicide can inform the book's subtext if you'd like it to, or it can shock you if you'd prefer that.

Ignatius Reilly is the protagonist: a lazy boor--outrageously pedantic, blowing hard, in a huff, etc. His grandiose chatter and grandiloquent missives on cultural degradation (eg., Why venerate Twain? Why let kids debase themselves with wacky TV dance shows?) fill the Big Chief writing tablets scattered throughout his room. They must take a lot of Ignatius's time too, in between all the masturbation and spontaneous erections.

He's grimly, stridently ungrateful toward the single mother who cares for him, as well as the docile boss(es) who employ him once the issue of $ presses tightly enough to dislodge him from his home. The enmity stretches to his mother's friend Santa, a comically inept police officer named Mancuso, a local lowlife named Jones...

And even to his ex-girlfriend Myrna Minkoff, a shrill hippie-poseur loudmouth who corresponds with her ex-boyfriend in occasional condescending letters. From her whirl of world-changing crud in NYC, Ignatius must appear quite the sad case: righteous and uptight and dim enough to keep pace with her, but too far away geographically.

Ignatius falls into disasters and mishaps and kooky scandals of various meta-humorous tones. He gets a job, loses the job in a cartoonish but revealing way, and all the while tours New Orleans' high and low. But until the end brings in an obvious-but-cute backstory and a convenient-but-artful getaway and a cheap-but-decent wrap-up for the story's threads, the whole of it seems disjointed and low.

Too often, A Confederacy of Dunces is just a spiteful little jaunt: readers are free to put a vile, preening doofus (a squawking imbecile with a bunch of bourgeois ineptitude) through the paces of several jobs (scummy, low-wage, but overall harmless) and see the hijinks that ensue. I know there's a higher purpose to all of it, but it's just mean on too many levels anyway.
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