Friday, September 17, 2010
Checked Out: A Confederacy of Dunces
Items I Borrowed From the Library this Month
By Brian Polk
A Confederacy of Dunces
By John Kennedy Toole
Without hyperbole, one could easily contend that A Confederacy of Dunces is most humorous American novel ever committed to press. Its protagonist Ignatius Jacques Reilly is an unlikable oaf who is much more impressed with himself than anyone else in his twisted world could ever be of him. He’s over-educated, lazy, overweight, and content to live with his mother where he spends his time in his room writing grotesquely self-indulgent prose that he believes will one day gain him prominence and riches. Early in the novel, Ignatius is pulled into the world by an accident that forces him into a bizarre cavalcade of jobs that he must endure in order to rectify the situation. Along the way he encounters a cast of unusual characters that includes a mindful, timid office manager (Mr. Gonzalez), a senile office worker who just wants to be retired (Miss Trixie), a self-indulgent former-trophy wife who is married to Gus Levy (owner of Levy Pants) and who refuses to retire said office worker (Mrs. Levy), a ostentatious French Quarter homosexual (Dorian Greene), and a smooth-talking janitor of the seedy nightclub Night of Joy (Burma Jones). The plot intricacies, the self-obsessed characters, and the complete lunacy of the character interactions recalls a sitcom that would come to prominence nine years after the book was published. And I don’t mean to degrade the book by comparing it to Seinfeld, but if Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David didn’t consciously base the nexus of their show off of A Confederacy of Dunces, the similarities are stunning. By far the most overlooked American masterpiece, John Toole’s story of Ignatius Reilly is not only indicative of New Orleans — the city where the book is set — but also of a culture too concerned with itself to notice its own absurdity.
Validating my assertions:
Most people my age know that Seinfeld was famously a show about nothing. The publisher Simon and Schuster first rejected John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces because they said it "isn't really about anything."