Title: A Confederacy of Dunces
Author: John Kennedy Toole
Synopsis (Courtesy of IndieBound): “Toole’s lunatic and sage novel introduces one of the most memorable characters in American literature, Ignatius Reilly, whom Percy dubs “slob extraordinary, a mad Oliver Hardy, a fat Don Quixote, a perverse Thomas Aquinas rolled into one — who is in violent revolt against the entire modern age”. Ignatius’ ire explodes when his mother backs her car into another automobile. The owner of the damaged vehicle insists on payment; Mrs. Reilly demands that her son cease watching television and writing in his Big Chief tablet and get a job.
Set in New Orleans, A Confederacy of Dunces outswifts Swift, one of whose essays gives the book its title. As its characters burst into life, they leave the region and literature forever changed by their presences — Ignatius and his mother; Miss Trixie, the octogenarian assistant accountant at Levy Pants; inept, wan Patrolman Mancuso; Darlene, the Bourbon Street stripper with a penchant for poultry; Jones, the jivecat in space-age dark glasses. Satire and farce animate A Confederacy of Dunces; tragic awareness ennobles it.”
Thoughts: A Confederacy of Dunces has been on my radar forever, as those who love it state it is one of their favorite novels of all time. Now that I have finished it, I can see why people love it. Ignatius and his mother, Miss Trixie and the Levys, Patrolman Mancuso and the entire cast of characters are so insane, the reader cannot help but laugh at their exploits. To do otherwise would be to despair forever of mankind while becoming bogged down in their depravity.
Yet, the novel is not without its sense of tragedy. Ignatius is the brilliant scholar who could have been something amazing and yet is deluded into thinking he is the only one who understands life. Miss Trixie just wants to retire but is unable to do so because of someone else’s fantasy. Patrolman Mancuso loves being a cop and is just trying to avoid being fired. Jones is looking for a way off the street. They each get mired into the most comedic situations that lightens their struggles while highlighting them.
A Confederacy of Dunces is not for everyone. As a fantastic example of satire, the characters are SO over the top, so farcical that certain readers can easily become disgusted. This is exactly what occurred in the book club with whom I read this novel. A great majority of those who started it could not finish it because they could not handle Ignatius and Miss Trixie and the whole cast of characters. I can see their point.
Frankly, Ignatius is simply disgusting. He is overweight to the point of obese and constantly eats; he is uncouth, flatulent and simply grotesque. It is a difficult characterization to overlook but worth doing because his approach to life, while misguided, is harmless. He espouses his ideology passionately and is only trying to improve the world as he sees fit. A person in the book club compared him to Howard Rourk in The Fountainhead, who refuses to play by society’s rules. The only difference is that Howard is good-looking and successful and Ignatius is most definitely not.
Equal portions hilarious and disturbing, A Confederacy of Dunces is a great example of farce set in modern times. The entire novel is not meant to be taken seriously but rather to poke fun of those who take themselves too seriously. When a reader is willing to overlook the more disturbing elements of the story, he or she will be rewarded with a rich literary experience that merits the attention it has garnered over the years.