Thursday, June 18, 2009

Friday Favorites from the Past: Confederacy of Dunces

When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him.
Jonathan Swift-- "Thoughts on Various Subjects, Moral and Diverting"
Building on the Favorite Reads theme on Alyce's blog: At Home with Books, this week's reverie is about what is probably one of my all-time favorites: Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. A posthumous Pulitzer winner featuring Ignatius Reilly and a wonderfully ditzy cast of characters, this story could only have been set in New Orleans. I love this book for so many reasons: the story, the characters, the setting, the richness of the text. Whenever I read it, I rejoice in the memory of one of my best friends, dead now almost 10 years. She lived across the street from me in Virginia, when I was a stay-at-home Mom with a very active 2 year old. She came over one day and invited me to join her in a book discussion group at the local library. I had recently finished library school, and found myself really wanting an adult book experience. We found a sitter, and every week went off to discuss Ignatius Reilly and his billious tummie, and laugh until we cried. I just took it off the shelf again and must quote from Walter Percy's wonderful foreword: Ignatius Reilly, without progenitor in any literature I know of--slob extraordinary, a mad Oliver Hardy, a fat Don Quixote, a perverse Thomas Aquinas rolled into one--who is in violent revolt against the entire modern age, lying in his flannel nightshirt, in a back bedroom ....between gigantic seizures of flatulence and eructations, is filling dozens of Big Chief tablets with invective. His mother thinks he needs a job..his girlfriend, Myrna Minkoff, of the Bronx, thinks he needs sex... I hesitate to use the word comedy--though comedy it is-because that implies simply a funny book..this is far more..a great rumbling farce of Falstaffian dimensions would better describe it;
Percy concludes, as the reader will, that this book is a tragedy also. The tragedy is that John Kennedy Toole committed suicide at the age of 32. This is the only work we have of this marvelously talented author. If you never read another Pulitzer, read this one. I know I have read it at least 5 times in the past 20 years, and it never ceases to satisfy me.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you-- you've convinced me to add this to my long list of books I'd like to read.


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