A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole



I feel as though my brain has been assaulted. The 394 pages of this monster were filled with the strangest, most obscure, most bizarre characters and events that I have ever encountered in a book. I am unsure that I have recovered enough to describe it, but here goes. Hold on tight.

Ignatius Jacques Reilly is a thirty year old, very well educated, egotistical, mentally deranged, idealistic yet diluded, morbidly obese man still living at home with his mother in New Orleans. He passes the days by writing insanely in his collection of notepads, watching movies at the local theater (but disrupting by screaming criticism at the screen), concocting plans to overthrow the government, and harassing everyone around him. It's pretty easy to see where Ignatius got his crazy, because his mother is just as bad...though I would concede that she is slightly more in touch with reality. (But only slightly.) Because of a debt owed by the Reilly duo, Ignatius is sent out to find a job. This leads to an absurdly ridiculous turn of events involving a riot in a pant-making factory, an underground pornography ring, and a comical attempt at hot dog vending.
The descriptive language used by this guy is hilarious. Rather than saying he was too fat to wear the former hot dog vendor's uniform, he says that "the costume, of course, had been made to fit the tuburcular and underdeveloped frame of the former vendor, and no amount of pulling and pushing, inhaling and squeezing would get it onto my muscular body." (page 228)

There are about 10 other minor characters that are sprinkled throughout. There is the flamboyantly gay Dorian Greene, who goes along with Ignatius's conspiracy for gay men to infiltrate the military and therefore take over the world solely because the "kickoff rally" will be a fantastic party. Then you have Darlene-the-Stripper whose act includes a cockatoo, policeman Mancuso who is forced to dress up in silly costumes while on patrol until he brings in a real criminal, and elderly and demented Miss Trixie working at the pants factory who makes daily demands for her Easter ham and turkey. Some of these people are inconsequential, some are vital to the plot of the story-even though you have to wade through Ignatius's spew to actually find it-and all are badly broken. They also have a heavy and distinctively New Orleans accent. I found myself rereading more than one page in attempt to figure out what the heck "Recor plain star at thirty a week" (page 218) really meant. (Translation: Record playing starts at thirty dollars a week.)
By the way, A Confederacy of Dunces was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1981.

I really had to work to read this bad boy. Its peculiarity wasn't endearing, its characters were confusing, and though its ending provided closure, it wasn't happy closure. I am glad to have read it, though, because a) It is an award winning book, b) It is renowned in the world o' books, and c) I can see it being valuable for study on the undergrad level or above. *There are some rather shocking and inappropriate manifestations of Ignatius's sexual delusions, which do fit in with his characterization but are still completely out of line for discussions in the high school setting. Kids should not, I repeat NOT, be reading this book. The truth is, though, with the way the whole situation is worded, they probably wouldn't understand it anyway.

It's over the top, this book. It is wild and shocking and completely unlike any other of its kind....I guess that is what makes it a perfect representation of New Orleans.