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A Confederacy of Dunces Paperback – 1987
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"Rebound" by Kwame Alexander
Don't miss best-selling author Kwame Alexander's "Rebound," a new companion novel to his Newbery Award-winner, "The Crossover," illustrated with striking graphic novel panels. Learn more
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"A green hunting cap squeezed the top of the fleshy balloon of a head. The green earflaps, full of large ears and uncut hair and the fine bristles that grew in the ears themselves, stuck out on either side like turn signals indicating two directions at once. Full, pursed lips protruded beneath the bushy black moustache and, at their corners, sank into little folds filled with disapproval and potato chip crumbs."
Meet Ignatius J. Reilly, the hero of John Kennedy Toole's tragicomic tale, A Confederacy of Dunces. This 30-year-old medievalist lives at home with his mother in New Orleans, pens his magnum opus on Big Chief writing pads he keeps hidden under his bed, and relays to anyone who will listen the traumatic experience he once had on a Greyhound Scenicruiser bound for Baton Rouge. ("Speeding along in that bus was like hurtling into the abyss.") But Ignatius's quiet life of tyrannizing his mother and writing his endless comparative history screeches to a halt when he is almost arrested by the overeager Patrolman Mancuso--who mistakes him for a vagrant--and then involved in a car accident with his tipsy mother behind the wheel. One thing leads to another, and before he knows it, Ignatius is out pounding the pavement in search of a job.
Over the next several hundred pages, our hero stumbles from one adventure to the next. His stint as a hotdog vendor is less than successful, and he soon turns his employers at the Levy Pants Company on their heads. Ignatius's path through the working world is populated by marvelous secondary characters: the stripper Darlene and her talented cockatoo; the septuagenarian secretary Miss Trixie, whose desperate attempts to retire are constantly, comically thwarted; gay blade Dorian Greene; sinister Miss Lee, proprietor of the Night of Joy nightclub; and Myrna Minkoff, the girl Ignatius loves to hate. The many subplots that weave through A Confederacy of Dunces are as complicated as anything you'll find in a Dickens novel, and just as beautifully tied together in the end. But it is Ignatius--selfish, domineering, and deluded, tragic and comic and larger than life--who carries the story. He is a modern-day Quixote beset by giants of the modern age. His fragility cracks the shell of comic bluster, revealing a deep streak of melancholy beneath the antic humor. John Kennedy Toole committed suicide in 1969 and never saw the publication of his novel. Ignatius Reilly is what he left behind, a fitting memorial to a talented and tormented life. --Alix Wilber
A masterwork . . . the novel astonishes with its inventiveness . . . it is nothing less than a grand comic fugue.”The New York Times Book Review
A corker, an epic comedy, a rumbling, roaring avalanche of a book.”The Washington Post
An astonishingly good novel, radiant with intelligence and artful high comedy.”Newsweek
One of the funniest books ever written . . . it will make you laugh out loud till your belly aches and your eyes water.”The New Republic
The episodes explode one after the other like fireworks on a stormy night. No doubt about it, this book is destined to become a classic.”The Baltimore Sun
The dialogue is superbly mad. You simply sweep along, unbelievably entranced.”The Boston Globe
An astonishingly original and assured comic spree.”New York Magazine
As hilarious as it indisputably is, A Confederacy of Dunces is a serious and important work.” Los Angeles Herald Examiner
"If a book's price is measured against the laughs it provokes, A Confederacy of Dunces is the bargain of the year." Time
A brilliant and evocative novel.” San Francisco Chronicle
"I found myself laughing out loud again and again as I read this ribald book." Christian Science Monitor
Crazy magnificent once-in-a-blue-moon first novel. . . . There is a touch of genius about Toole and what he has created.” Publishers Weekly
A masterpiece of character comedy . . . brilliant, relentless, delicious, perhaps even classic.” Kirkus Reviews
Astonishing, extravagant, lunatic, satiric, and peculiar, but it is above all genuine, skillful, and unsentimentally comic.” Booklist
Ignatius J. Reilly is Bette Midler’s favorite hero of fiction (Vanity Fair, August 2008)
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I re-read aCoD every three to five years for a "humility tune up." The book is a highly polished soul mirror that's a lot more true-to-life than most people want it to be. Ignatius, or "His Royal Malignancy" as I like to call him, is the central character, and an extreme example of an arrogant bastard with absolutely nothing to be arrogant about, but the whole book is like a case study for John Calvin's doctrine of total depravity; everyone in it is---to some degree--indelibly screwed up. I suspect this is why so many people hate this book. At some point they see themselves here and realize that the depth of their own depravity is invariably greater than they suspected, realized, or certainly would ever have cared to admit.
If you love Ignatius J. Reilly, there is probably something really wrong with you, but if you hate him---there definitely is. Either way, you're doomed.
It would be easy to dismiss the editors involved in rejecting this manuscript as grade-A lunkheads, or as the lead character (Ignatius J. Reilly) likes to verbally skewer his victims “Mongoloids.” However, one can see how said lunkheads would find this much-beloved novel risky. It’s a character-driven novel in which the lead character is obnoxious and unlovable in the extreme. Reilly is a pretentious and pedantic professorial type--verbally speaking-- wrapped into the obese body of a man-child who is emotionally an ill-mannered five year old with a bombastic vocabulary. Reilly has no impulse control, takes no responsibility, and is prone to tantrums, sympathy-seeking dramatic displays, and wanton lies. He’s the worst because he thinks he’s better than everyone despite the fact that in all ways except his acerbic tongue, he’s worse than everyone.
That said, the book—like its unsympathetic lead character—is hilarious through and through. What it lacks in a taught story arc and a theme / moral argument (the latter being why the editor at Simon and Schuster rejected the book after showing initial interest in it) it more than makes up in hilarity.
I should point out that when I say that this isn’t a plot-driven book, it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have an interesting wrap-up at the end—which I will not discuss to avoid spoiling it. The plot revolves around events in the life of a lazy man-child forced to go to work. It’s not a journey of change, discovery, or adventure. While, in most cases, a character-driven story with an unmalleable lead would be a recipe for a book that flops, here it keeps one reading to the last page because it’s Ignatius’s failure to become a better man that ensures the book is funny to the end. Reilly is constantly making decisions that are both overly contemplated and yet ill-considered.
The book follows Ignatius Reilly through an event that results in a tremendous loss of money for Ignatius’s mother. This forces her to finally put her foot down and insist the man—who she still thinks of as her little boy—get a job. It should be noted that Ignatius’s mother’s eventual coming around to the monster her son has become is a major driving force in the story—though we can see a distinct lack of taking of responsibility that echoes that of Ignatius, himself. Ignatius gets a fine—if lowly, clerical--job at the slowly-dying Levy Pants Company, but gets fired after he encourages a worker protest that goes awry. He then gets a job as a hotdog cart vendor—a job considered the lowest of the low by both his mother and New Orleans’ society-at-large. The latter is the job he has at the end when a final chain of events unfolds (not without tension and drama, I might add.)
On the theme issue, the Simon & Schuster editor was correct that the book isn’t really about anything except how to muddle through life as a lazy, cranky, emotionally-stunted, and overly-verbose doofus. (But he was oh-so wrong about that being a lethal deficit—according to the Pulitzer Prize committee as well as innumerable readers.)
I’d recommend this for any reader with a sense of humor. You won’t like Ignatius J. Reilly, but you’ll find his antics hilarious, and you’ll want to know what happens to him in the end even if he is irredeemable.
"Dunces" was a very good read. As another reviewer stated, "This guy could write." I don't think that Toole intended this to be a "funny" book - I read quite a few reviews that were disappointed that it wasn't funny; I suppose it's marketed that way to get readers... It came across to me as more of a sad book with humorous sections; Dickenish characters making statements about their lives and situations. As far as the comparison with Schweik: Schweik was an guy who knew how to play the game and uses that knowledge to get around the rules; Ignatius doesn't know how the game is played and tries to make the world adjust to his "worldview". Pretty much opposites. I think.
Anyway, it was a good book, extremely well written, with some unforgettable characters.