You must read this book – A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole


A Confederacy of Dunces

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I picked this book up at the library for a beach read on our vacation. A recommendation I read said that it was funny. The recommendation was wrong. This book was hilarious. It’s really hard to describe what the appeal is for this novel. It’s vulgar, crass and farcical (is that a word?).

The hero of this convoluted nonsense is Ignatius Reilly, a thirty-something slob who lives in a beat up hovel in 1960’s New Orleans – with his mother.  He has a college degree but has never really had a job. He is enormously fat and ugly and dresses funny, the costume of choice being extremely baggy pants, plaid flannel shirt and green hunting cap with ear flaps.  He doesn’t drive but writes like a fiend in his Big Chief writing tablets about injustice and the current state of the world and how “Fortuna” has cursed him.

Mama Reilly despairs over her son. He lays in bed in his filthy room all day pondering his ill-functioning pyloric valve. She worries that Ignatius is jobless and over his correspondence with Myrna, a political activist, and that her son may be a “communiss.”

Ignatius lands an office job at the Levy Pants factory and actually likes it. He proudly throws files away instead of filing them, writes scathing letters to company distributors, is nice to the ancient and senile accountant Miss Trixie (who thinks Ignatius is a woman named Gloria) and executes all kinds of changes to a place that hasn’t seen it in many moons.

After being fired (not surprisingly) for inciting a riot among the factory workers, Ignatius becomes a hot dog vendor at Paradise Vendors, Inc. with a portable wienie cart. He eats more than he sells and tells fantastic stories to his boss, Mr. Clyde, about why he isn’t bringing in a profit.

Other ridiculous but equally engaging characters in A Confederacy of Dunces include:

Gonzalez – the office manager (as it were) at Levy Pants and the unfortunate person responsible for hiring Ignatius Reilly

Jones – the African-American vagrant turned “broom pusher extraordinaire” for Night of Joy bar on Bourbon Street

George – the high school dropout who delivers mysterious packages for Lana Lee, owner of the Night of Joy

Darlene – Night of Joy’s headline act, such as it is

Patrolman Mancuso – the policeman who can’t catch a break or a criminal and wears everything but a uniform when on duty

Santa – Mancuso’s mother, as well as Mama Reilly’s bowling partner and confidante

Miss Annie – the nosy, screaming neighbor of the Reillys

Mr. and Mrs. Levy – dysfunctional owners of Levy Pants who hate each other

Claude Robichaux – ancient widower courting Mrs. Reilly who thinks everyone is a communist

Note that this book is not for the faint of heart or those easily offended. However, the humor is definitely worth it. Most of the dialogue is in the dialect of those speaking and is a little hard to understand at first. Then it grows on you.

Don’t miss this literary treat. It really is laugh-out-loud funny. No wonder it won the Pulitzer.

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