nicole's Reviews > A Confederacy of Dunces

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

bookshelves: 2013, grown_up_ish, pulitzer, book-club, lol, favorites, american
Recommended to nicole by: everyone
Recommended for: everyone, everyone, everyone
Read from January 14 to February 22, 2013

So funny I didn't even laugh. I was dumbstruck the whole time, and thought about underlining every other sentence. The blurbs on the back of the book, for once, are not hyperbolic endorsements, but truths. The Washington Post calls it "epic comedy"; Newsweek, "astonishingly good, artful high comedy"; The New Republic, "one of the funniest books ever written." All true. To review is almost futile.

From page one: "Full, pursed lips protruded beneath the bushy black moustache and, at their corners, sank into little folds filled with disapproval and potato chip crumbs."

You know exactly who Ignatius J. Riley is from paragraph one. You recognize this guy. He's the nerd with no social graces. The genius with no ambition. The pampered slob, hypocritical elitist, self-involved jerk, blind to his own path of destruction. You love and hate him in equal measure. You can't help but admire him a bit, for being so unfazed and unapologetic in his quest to serve himself (or just his own appetite), yet he is also the eye of a tornado, carelessly destroying the livelihood and sanity of everyone around him, from his own mother, to his bosses, to casual acquaintances. Even a professor from year's prior still suffers from his relationship with Ignatius. You're equally glad this book exists and that you will never actually have to meet this man. The comedy is so artful, the characters and plot so satisfyingly cyclical and connected. It's a literary Arrested Development, in many ways.

I could talk about the themes of genius and idiocy, how the most sensible characters in the novel are also the most unappreciated, Burma Jones a black janitor and Darren, a gay New Orleans socialite, about selfishness and steadfastness, about how sometimes maybe it is too late or just too hopeless to expect change. But instead I'm going to present a notion I haven't already seen mentioned elsewhere: Confederacy of Dunces as a homeless man's personal history. For all his manipulative prowess, Ignatius J. Riley is not at all self-sufficient. When he leaves for New York City at the end of the novel, despite heading there with his would-be lover Myrna Minkoff, I can't help but think this man is going to end up on the streets, eating out of a movie theater dumpster. I think that is his destiny, really. I don't think anyone can live with him and I don't think he can live with anyone else, not even Myrna. He is impossible. And it's an amusing notion for one just because as long as he could scavenge enough to eat, Ignatius probably wouldn't even mind being homeless, and it's interesting just because, how much intimate thought is really given to the circumstances that lead to homelessness? Wouldn't you be amazed to hear this story on the street? Obviously this is a light-hearted take on a dark issue, but that's the line of projection I see for our hero: opinionated hobo-dom. People would love him, the way Darren and all the cool kids in the Quarter love Officer Mancuso in his ridiculously transparent disguises. Ignatius would insult you for being indecent, and you'd toss him a dollar. He'd buy a hot dog. In turn his valve would suffer, and the world keeps turning.
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Reading Progress

02/20/2013 page 234
59.0% "So readable and wildly funny. I want to remember or underline every other sentence so that I can quote it to other people because its the kind of book you have to share. I don't even laugh, I just sit a bit dumbfounded by how smart and funny it is in its observations of people, race relations, class society. Everything. And how satisfyingly all the characters seem to connect." 1 comment

Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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Kelly Still one of my all time favorites, and you make me want to re-read it. I felt the same way about wanting to underline every other sentence.


nicole Oh, I'm glad! It just absolutely delights me on so many levels. It's one of those books that, once you read it, you can't believe you ever allowed it to linger on your to-read shelf. Absolute gold, this book.


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