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A Confederacy of Dunces Hardcover – February 1, 2000
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From Library Journal
The Pulitzer Prize-winning novel with the sad history turns 20 (LJ 4/15/80). This story about a young man's isolation still rings true at a time when millions interact more with computers than with other people. This anniversary edition contains a new introduction by Andrei Codrescu.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
A masterpiece of character comedy finally published more than ten years after its writing, thanks to novelist Walker Percy - who furnishes a foreword. The character? Ignatius J. Reilly - reader of Boethius and drinker of bottle after bottle of Dr. Nut, virgin and lute player, writer-down of maledictions against contemporary society (in Big Chief writing tablets), owner of an erratic pyloric valve that gives him "bloat," wearer of desert boots, tweeds, and a green hunting cap with flaps. He's huge and obese, he lives with his widowed dipso mother in a ramshackle New Orleans half-house. Fastidious slob, rhetorical wreck in excellsis, Ignatius was once a grad student - but the trauma of a ride on a Greyhound Scenicruiser to Baton Rouge for a teaching-job interview has sworn him off work ever since. Mother Reilly, however, backs him into another try at employment. And his first job is at a hopeless clothing factory, Levy Pants, where the bookkeeper is senile ("Am I retired yet?" she every so often asks no one in particular) and where the black factory workers use the machines for home sewing, since no one actually buys Levy Pants. Shocked, Ignatius organizes a "Crusade for Moorish Dignity" to better the black workers' plight - and that's the end of that job. Next he's a hot-dog vendor, and then events take an indescribable spiraling turn involving pornographic pictures, a libel suit against Levy Pants, an old Bronx girlfriend of Ignatius', a woeful undercover cop, and a sleazy bar. (Here we meet grandly funny Burma Jones, an unwilling black janitor and sidewalk shill: "Hey! All you peoples draggin along here. Stop and come stick your ass on a Night of Joy stool. . . . Night of Joy got genuine color peoples workin below the minimal wage. Whoa! Guarantee plantation atmosphere, got cotton growin right on the stage right in front your eyeball, got a civil right worker gettin his ass beat up between show. Hey!") The novel can hardly contain burstingly funny Ignatius - and the mix of high and low comedy is almost stroboscopic: brilliant, relentless, delicious, perhaps even classic. Unfortunately, this is all we'll have of Toole's talent; he committed suicide in 1969, age 32, leaving only this astounding book. (Kirkus Reviews) --Kirkus Reviews
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That being said, I hated this book enough that I actually felt compelled to write one.
This book was passed on to me by a co-worker who raved on and on about how great it was. As it sat on my desk for the rest of the day, I had roughly 4 different co-workers walk by and notice it on my desk and tell me how wonderful it was.
I also have a good friend who loved the book so much, he named his dog after the main character.
I was really, really looking forward to reading this book.
I've now had the book for 2 months and I've managed to trudge through 173 pages of it.
I literally have to FORCE myself to read this.
Not only does the entire storyline clomp along sloppily and without purpose or point, but the characters, Ignacious especially, are so incredibly unlikeable that I find myself getting annoyed and wanting to either toss the book out of a window or reach inside the story and smack them.
I suppose those who enjoyed this would say "But isn't that the point? To incite emotion? To loathe the character so deeply that you have a physical repulsion to him?"
If I'm going to delve into a story, I want to be pulled in, not shoved out.
I feel like all these 5 stars and glowing reviews are the result of too many people wanting to look intellectual and cool by saying they love a story everyone else claimed to like, but no one has the heart to admit that this book is absolutely and unbelievably unlikeable.
A word on the history of the novel is worth mentioning here. The author, John Kennedy Toole, committed suicide in 1969, and his mother found the hand-written manuscript in her son's papers. She brought them to a publisher, who dreaded having to read even a portion of the work and to notify Toole's mother that it stunk. Instead, he was blown away by Toole's draft, and the rest is history. The novel earned him a posthumous Pulitzer Prize, and it is universally hailed by critics.
Trying to summarize the plot is impossible - the book cannot really be categorized. Ignatius is an over-educated oaf who stays home filling his writing tablets full of his offbeat musings on ancient history, which he plans to organize and publish some day but which presently reside all over his bedroom floor. Rome wasn't built in a day he reminds himself. He cites in footnotes, as authority for some of his offbeat opinions, papers he had previously written and hand-delivered to the local university library for inclusion into their archives. He watches dreadful tv shows and movies, howling at the screen with a mixture of delight and loathing at the teenybopper drivel, and in the privacy of his room his self-gratification is performed while imagining visions of the old family dog. And wait til you see him out in public, getting a series of odd jobs, including a filing clerk at Levy Pants (with very innovative filing techniques to avoid crowded file space) as well as a costumed hot dog vendor wandering around the French Quarter in a pirate costume. All the while he begins work on his latest opus, The Journal of the Working Boy.
There is a latent sadness to the plot, for while you are laughing out loud at Ignatius, his bowling-addicted mother, and the motley crew of skillfully drawn supporting characters, you sense that he will never really belong anywhere, and that he realizes his outcast status with his innate intelligence. Perhaps the author felt the same way in 1969, leading to his own suicide.
However, at least Toole did leave us A Confederacy of Dunces, a novel which reveals more with each rereading. Keep it on your shelf, and every now and then pick up the book to any page and marvel at the absurdity of Ignatius's grandiose ramblings, read exerpts of his bizarre historical writings, and revisit his comic efforts to organize a worker's revolt at Levy Pants. The list goes on and on. There is no work of litereature like it I know, and my only regret in reading Toole is the sorrow felt in knowing the tremendous body of work that was lost when he ended his life.
I hold no anomosity to the lovers of this book. If this is your thing, peace be with the legions of fellow fans. Just don't think that everyone will be one of them. It is one of those anomolies that delight some and reduces others to tears of boredom. Remember, 3 to 4 pages.....
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“Apparently I lack some particular perversion which today's employer is seeking. ”
― John Kennedy Toole, A Confederacy of Dunces