A Confederacy of Dunces – by John Kennedy Toole

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole – Review by Mike Nolan

     During a recent visit to the book store, I was less than impressed with the new fiction so I have taken the liberty of reaching into the past for this gem.  I beg your indulgence.

     John Kennedy Toole, a truly gifted writer, committed suicide at the age of 32 therefore denying us more of his wit, comedy and incredible style.  If it were not for the efforts of his mother, who insisted that Prof. Walker Percy read this original manuscript, a Pulitzer Prize winner, we might never had know of the amusing mis-adventures of Ignatius J. Reilly, the main character.

      “A green hunting cap squeezed the top of the fleshy balloon of a head.” is the first sentence and our introduction to Toole’s descriptive genius and his Don Quixote, Ignatius – a pompous, fractious, huge, obese, obnoxious, opinionated adult child.  In cunning detail, the author grants us access into Ignatius’s challenging life and the unusual and interesting characters of his New Orleans.

      Ignatius lives with his widow mother who insists he gets a job, which he does numerous times only to lose each in some crazy lunatic adventure.  We share Ignatius’s stint as a Paradise Hot Dog vendor.  A job which generates no income because he eats all of his own hot dogs in an attempt to fortify his delicate gastrointestinal balance. To make up for these shortages, he is duped into hiding and delivering brown paper packages which contain pornography. In another job he creates a nasty libel suit for the owner of the company and then tries to help the company employees by organizing a strike.   Even more amusing, in this story, is his attempts to impress and win back his former girl friend, Myrna Minkoff, who left him and now lives in New York and who is of the firm belief that all of his problems would be solved if he would openly discuss his sexuality. 

     The characters you meet include a bumbling Barney Fife like policeman, a stripper with an act that includes a bird which removes her costume,  a madam who models for and sells mild pornography but uses teenagers as runners, and a host of other amusingly damaged but interesting people.   Toole does a great job of providing a view into each of their lives and thoughts.   We learn, for example, about Ms. Reilly’s life; her hope (her bum son gets a job and moves out), her dreams (she finds a nice man to remarry) and her losses (she has an auto accident and is being sued for damages and is almost arrested in the opening chapter because of her son, Ignatius). 

     Each job and indeed everything that Ignatius does is a comedy of errors. Toole carefully describes and details each misadventure with humor and in true living color.  His writing reflects the intimacy of the back streets and people of New Orleans even down to the local accents.  Each misadventure reflects it own crazy logic and you find yourself examining the situation from Ignatius’s point of view.  But then you snap out of it, chuckle to yourself and realize how great this book really is. The title alone says it all.

     This is one of my favorite books which I have read more than once, if you want a good laugh and some humor in your life, read this book.

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