A Confederacy of Dunces

What a train wreck… but where was the train going?

Guest written by Kate Siegrist


This month’s one-hit-wonder, A Confederacy of Dunces, may have won a Pulitzer, but it certainly didn’t win any awards with this club. The book, described as a “comic masterpiece”, follows the antics of Ignatius Reilly through New Orleans in the 1960’s, described by Tyler as the Don Quixote of the French Quarter. Not only was Ignatius a complete train wreck, but we also felt as if the plot was as well. Kate, Jaime, and Tyler managed to slog through it, but we all walked away wondering what the heck it was about.

Sure, we met some interesting characters along the way. But we felt as if the author, John Kennedy Toole, really pushed the envelope when it came to his views and depictions of African Americans. Particularly with Burma Jones and the injustices he experienced from the local law enforcement and his employer, Lana Lee, the owner of the strip club “Night of Joy”. It’s frustrating to think not much has changed in this regard in the nearly 50 years since this book was written.

When Kate announced the pick at last month’s meeting, she had already read the first few chapters and relayed to everyone that it was, albeit a bit raunchy, a promising comedy as she had already had a few chuckles thanks to blowhard Ignatius’ first encounter with Patrolman Mancuso (debated online as one of the greatest comedic chapters of all time). Unfortunately, it was all downhill from there. However, perhaps the most unfortunate revelation was how this semi-autobiographical novel is known as a one-hit-wonder due to Toole’s tragic death at age 32. Had it not been for his mother’s decade long publishing campaign, we would have never been introduced to this strange world of characters. If only Mrs. Reilly shared that same tenacious spirit… If nothing else, we’ll all be able to answer the final Jeopardy question “Who is the huge and fractious character in the Pulitzer prize-winning novel “A Confederacy of Dunces” who’s plagued with a constantly closing valve?”

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