A Confederacy of Dunces
I'll be honest. When I first read this book I thought it was some crazy piece of shit. Insane. As in, what the hell was this guy smoking? So after reading it, I read it again. And it wasn't quite as shitty as previously thought. Still strange as hell though.
This is one of those books that people will whip out to appear intellectual and well-read. It did win a Pulitzer you know. And the author? He offed himself when he was 32. His mother actually had the novel published posthumously, in 1980. Unfortunately for me, I read this book long after it was published and years before it became all the rage to brag about reading. But I've now read it three times and it gets better with each consumption. Much like shots of cheap whiskey.
This novel by John Kennedy Toole is set in New Orleans in the early 1960's and the story revolves around a 30-year old stinky fat guy named Ignatius J. Reilly. He lives with his widowed mother and spends a lot of time sweating on his horribly foul sheets and masturbating, between bouts of writing on Big Chief tablets. He has no job and his mother takes him everywhere and it appears he exists to insult and turn his nose up at, well, most everything. He can't stand pop culture, sex, people, pretty much everything since he's really quite above it all and far more advanced as a human.
He is also a glutton and immensely slothful. He's just, well, gross.
Due to his mom crashing the family car and needing repairs, Ignatius is forced to find a job. He tries to sell hotdogs but he eats them all 'cause he's just too hungry all the time. He then falls into a job at the Levy Pants company where he works in a back office and mostly hides paperwork in file cabinets.
It's almost difficult to describe this book because there are so many eccentric characters it just kept me thinking "what in the holy fucking hell is going on here??" chapter after chapter.
First, there's Myrna Minkoff who Ignatius met in college and is the polar opposite of him. They continue having a pen pal relationship where they both analyze and degrade each other and Myrna speculates continually about his sexual orientation.
Then there's Miss Trixie, a clerk in the Levy Pants office who is senile and only wants to retire, but the owner's wife, Mrs. Levy, keeps her working, thinking she is doing the old crazy lady a favor by taking her under her wing as project. Even going so far as to give the woman a makeover. Mr. Levy would just like it if his wife would shut up.
Next up is the cop who keeps hassling Ignatius, Officer Mancuso who is completely inept, and his aunt, Santa Battaglia, who is Mrs. Reilly's new best friend, and hates Ignatius. It's Santa who helps Mrs. Reilly get a little more independent and to start standing up to Ignatius and his demands. It's Santa that gets Mrs. Reilly dating after 21-years of widowhood and that introduces the next character: Claude Robichaux. He's an old guy with a big dash of paranoia who is always looking for Communists around every corner.
Then there's the strip club occupants. Darlene, with a pet bird that she is trying to incorporate into her act to get herself famous, and Lana Lee the manager of the strip club. She just happens to also be running an illegal porn exchange on the side where she packages up photos and postcards and gives them to George, a high school aged kid, for delivery. Except of course he is compelled to peek in the packages and knows exactly what Lana is doing and demands a raise.
For pretty much all of the novel, Ignatius spends his time outraged and indignant and one really must wonder what the guy has in his head that makes him so superior to others.
This satirical novels encompasses corruption in the police force and the mindset of white trash nouveau riche. It even attempts a worker's revolt as Ignatius decides that being a clerk or hot dog vender are just undignified and everyone should rise up and protest. This is also an action that is staged to one-up Myrna Minkoff who continues to write from New York City with larger and larger leftist challenges for Ignatius to meet.
Ignatius is seriously one of the most disgusting characters I've ever had the pleasure of climbing into the skin of. Full of flatulence and hypochondriacal illnesses and a total disregard for anyone but himself.
This book was just ucky. I don't know what to say. I liked it. The 2nd time around. And subsequent readings. But the first time? Well, the first time I decided there must be something I'm missing and I'm clearly not the sort to be snooty about my novel consumption if this is the sort of thing that impresses the haughty class of those disdainful of the bourgeois.
This is a comedy and it was funny. The other plus is that you will sound smart at parties where you can drop the names like Ignatius P. Reilly or Myrna Minkoff because instantly people will know you read books. And Pulitzer Prize winners at that. That makes you SPECIAL. And not in that short bus sort of way. Really. It will be as impressive as knowing what nose your glass of pinot emits or which composer tackled that air on a g string.
Just read it, you won't be disappointed—but understand it might take a couple readings to appreciate it. Remember, it's like cheap booze. Wait, that isn't fair. It's more like cracking open a bottle of fine whiskey before it's had time to properly age. Do it too soon and well, that's just nasty and it will make you sick. But savor it, roll it over your tongue, inhale the vapor and let it intoxicate you and you will learn to appreciate the finer aspects of perfection.
That's the novel.