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A Confederacy of Dunces
By John Kennedy Toole

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A Confederacy of Dunces

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A Confederacy of Dunces
A Novel
By John Kennedy Toole
Large Print Edition
Louisiana State University Press, (2004)
ISBN: 0-8071-3008-7

Reviewed by Rochelle Caviness - September 1, 2004

"Patrolman Mancuso was walking slowly down Chartres Street dressed in ballet tights and a yellow sweater, a costume which the sergeant said would enable him to bring in genuine, bona fide suspicious characters instead of grandfathers and boys waiting for their mothers. The costume was the sergeant's punishment. He had told Mancuso that from now on he would be strictly responsible for bringing in suspicious characters, that police headquarters had a costume wardrobe that would permit Mancuso to be a new character every day..." (Pg. 39)
Originally written during the 1960's, John Kennedy Toole was unable to find a publisher for his masterpiece, A Confederacy of Dunces. It was not until after his suicide in 1969 that Toole's mother at long last found a publisher who was willing to take a risk with this blatantly unpolitically correct novel. It was an instant hit and Toole was posthumously awarded The Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for this novel.

A Confederacy of Dunces is an off-beat novel that follows the exploits of the rotund, indolent Ignatius J. Reilly, who lives with his indomitable mother, Mrs. Reilly. For years, Ignatius has lived off of his mother, and her welfare checks. Then it happened. Mrs. Reilly plowed her car into a building, and to pay for the damages, she demands that the supercilious Ignatius should get a job, several in fact. Yikees! Before he knows what has happened, Ignatius finds himself at the center of a worker's revolt...

Juxtaposed against Ignatius adventures in the work force, you have Patrolman Mancuso. A hard working but inept policeman, Mancuso's job is to try keep New Orleans' French Quarter safe from suspicious characters. However, he has a constant thorn in his side that is impeding his ability to do his job properly, and that thorn is Ignatius! Throughout this madcap adventure, Mancuso and Ignatius routinely lock horns, with unpredictable results. Mancuso is just one of the many incomparable characters that populate this farce and give life to the myriad of subplots that meander through the main story.

You will find Toole's sense of humor either side-splittingly funny, or merely quaint. Either way, you cannot help but be amazed by Toole's ability to write in various dialects, and by his witty caricatures of popular stereotypes that comprise the characters that populate this story. Toole was an equal opportunity 'poker of fun at' and he made stereotypical references to Jews, African-Americans, women, old men, homosexuals, bartenders, policemen, idle momma's boys, and exotic dancers. You name a group, and odds that somewhere within the pages of this novel, Toole lampooned them.

Although this book has long been a 'must read,' for far too long it has only been available in standard print. Much to the displeasure of those who need, or prefer, large print books. Finally, this injustice has been corrected with Louisiana State University Press's publication of a large print edition of A Confederacy of Dunces. In addition to the complete text of Toole's novel, this large print edition also includes a forward by Walker Percy and a new introduction to the book by Andrei Codrescu.

Ignatius is a strange character. Although educated, he has a master's degree, he seems unable to put his education to any productive use. He has subjugated his natural desire for human contact to food. Like his mother, his girl friend, Myrna Minkoff, does what she can to try to save Ignatius from himself. Often this seems to be a blatant exercise in futility. Ignatius doesn't want to be saved. He lives in his own egocentrically warped world, and he constantly strives, and fails, to force those he meets to confirm to his world view. Ignatius is not a likable character, but it is hard to ignore him. He is so obnoxious, arrogant, and self-righteous that he becomes a walking farce that it is impossible to take your eyes off of him.

A Confederacy of Dunces is basically one big misadventure, with Toole's unforgettable, lovable, anti-hero, Ignatius Reilly, falling into trouble at every turn. He cannot even stand safely on a street corner without being accosted by a copper! Ignatius is the quid-essential momma's boy, who is perhaps most note worthy for his flatulence. Ignatius haunts the street of New Orleans in this classic comedy of errors. A Confederacy of Dunces is not your typical novel. What it lacks in plot is more than made up in farcical vignettes, intriguing characters, vivid imagery, and unforgettable dialog. A bizarre book from beginning to end, A Confederacy of Dunces is a literary comedy that will grabs your attention the moment you begin the books, and never let you go - even after you've finished the novel.


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