The Confederacy of Dunces, written by John Kennedy Toole, has been on my reading radar for years. The book always stuck out to me when I saw it in book shops or in the book collections of my friends. I remember hearing about how funny it was and how it was a ‘must read’. Well I finally got around to reading it. And in general, I was pleased with the book.
What is interesting about this book is that it was published and became famous posthumous, 11 years after John Kennedy Toole’s suicide . In the prologue, it was shared that the mother of Toole sent the manuscript to a publisher to be read. The publisher admitted that he thought he was dealing with a distraught mother who wanted desperately for her son to ‘live on’. He honestly thought that he would read the first couple of paragraphs and throw away the document. However, before he knew it, he was utterly involved in the chaotic and fantastic story. The book would later go on to grow into being a cult classic and win Tool a Pulitzer Prize in 1981.
The Confederacy of Dunces is a comedic story about a man named Ignatius and his mother who live in New Orleans. Over the course of the book, their relationship degrades as the man gets himself involved in a whole slew of ridiculous jobs and situations. The man himself is highly educated, but completely void of social skills and empathy. He is a compulsive liar and obsessed with only his world view. He gets involved with undercover cops, pornographers, factory revolutions, hot dog vending and pirate costumes. He is an obese, farting, burping and vulgar mouthed ‘shit storm.’
The thing I appreciated most about Toole’s novel was how it was written. Toole does an elegant job of weaving together the complex lives of multiple characters all living within the French Quarter of New Orleans. They come in and out of each other’s lives in diverse and increasingly frequent ways. By the end of the book, the characters are all involved in a ridiculous and entertaining ending.
While doing so, Toole wrote incredibly colorfully and with vivid details. The way the characters dressed, spoke and interacted with one another was easy to imagine. The settings were imaginative and easy to place yourself within. Toole did a good job at bringing to life the world famous and notorious city of New Orleans.
Toole’s satiric story had me laughing and giggling multiple times. But after a certain amount of time reading, I would become almost tired of the humor. The book became a bit predictable in this way. You sort of knew how a scene might end, or how a certain character would act, especially Ignatius. On top of that, its one of those stories that is always in a certain degree of chaos, like a train wreck that wont stop. At a certain point, you become exhausted by all the things going wrong. I feel this way about a lot of sit-coms on television, for example, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. What specially tired me out was the lack of ‘good’ or ‘nice’ people. It’s a very dog-eat-dog story. Lots of yelling, taking advantage of, cursing, and all around unkindness.
The Confederacy of Dunces was a fun read, but I think it would be even more fun to watch as a play or movie. Being able to cipher through the myriad of scenes in order to link together a entertaining story that ‘does the book well’ would be super fun to watch in person. I think it would have me laughing from start to finish and not so exhausted in between.
If you are in the mood for a loooong laugh (its a novel people), then check out The Confederacy of Dunces. I would recommend.