819 pages of immaculate stories that go like this (from halfway through “A Picture of the World”):
" But my wife was sad.
“What’s the matter, darling?819 pages of immaculate stories that go like this (from halfway through “A Picture of the World”):
" But my wife was sad.
“What’s the matter, darling?” I asked.
“I just have this terrible feeling that I’m a character in a television situation comedy,” she said. “I mean, I’m nice-looking, I’m well-dressed, I have humorous and attractive children, but I have this terrible feeling that I’m in black-and-white and that I can be turned off by anybody. I just have this terrible feeling I can be turned off.” My wife is often sad because her sadness is not a sad sadness, sorry because her sorrow is not a crushing sorrow. She grieves because her grief is not an acute grief, and when I tell her that this sorrow over the inadequacies of her sorrow may be a new hue in the spectrum, she is not consoled. Oh, I sometimes think of leaving her. "
Who has the gall to start a story this way? Only someone who knows he can pull it off.
Although the Suburban Ennui theme can run a little thick, every now and then you will discover a story like “The Swimmer,” or “Goodbye, My Brother,” or “The Country Husband,” or “Reunion,” any of which could be career-capping masterpieces in their own right. In the collected stories, these are the rule, not the exception....more
This book is hard to categorize, or even sum up, which may be why it’s hard to recommend. It’s nearly plotless, and the main character, Ignatious RielThis book is hard to categorize, or even sum up, which may be why it’s hard to recommend. It’s nearly plotless, and the main character, Ignatious Rielly, is one of the most obnoxious characters in literature. Here’s a brief except from the opening scene, where a police officer asks the conspicuous and elephantine Ignatious for identification at a shopping mall. To which Ignatious replies:
“Is it the part of the police department to harass me when this city is a flagrant vice capitol of the civilized world?” Ignatius bellowed over the crowd in front of the store. “This city is famous for its gamblers, prostitutes, exhibitionists, Antichrists, alcoholics, sodomites, drug addicts, fetishists, onanists, pornographers, frauds, jades, litterbugs, and lesbians, all of whom are only too well protected by graft. If you have a moment, I shall discuss the crime problem with you, but don’t make the mistake of bothering me.”
This short exchange tells us everything about the character, and this book. Ignatius has a ready list of “degenerates” -everyone from Antichrists to litterbugs and lesbians- a group in which, although he repeats it moments before beating the same police officer with a roll of sheet music and lute string, he does not recognize himself. It is his arrogance and self-delusion which drive this novel and, ironically, what makes him so sympathetic.
Describing the attraction of watching someone like Reilly is as difficult as describing the novel. A Confederacy of Dunces is a throw-back, the same as its protagonist: There is no real plot-arc, no meta-fictional devices, and it is not tied to any celebrities or historical event (except perhaps, now, the cannon of pre-Katrina New Orleans literature, the same as The Moviegoer, whose author saved this novel from oblivion). Trying to apply the Heroe’s Journey Template to this novel would be as absurd as Ignatious -which, along with the curse, might explain why it has never been filmed. It is a picturesque series of events, loosely connected, involving charters so weird in their own unique ways each seems entirely real. Reilly is the first character we meet, but his supporting cast often steals the show, and upstaging a giant, bellowing, arrogant anachronism is no easy task.
I think anyone who recommends this book does so urgently, as I do, and so the mania can seem off-putting. So here’s a link to the book on Amazon. Please don’t buy it there. Instead, go into the “Look Inside” function and browse the first few pages, then buy it at a local book store when you can’t stop reading. Do it right now. Before you miss out on something cool....more