Adventures in Reading


Fiction: A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

“You be lookin’ pretty junky with a Night of Joy broom stickin out your ass,” Jones said very slowly. “Night of Joy broom old, they good and splintery.”

The Pulitzer Prize-Winning A Confederacy of Dunces existed in my peripheral vision for some years. At some point I must have read the introduction and learned that John Kennedy Toole committed suicide and some years later his mother plagued a professor at a local college to take a look at her son’s manuscript. If we celebrate Mother’s Day for no other reason than to celebrate Mrs. Toole’s efforts it is a worthwhile holiday. Before I proceed, I confess that nothing I can say will do this book nearly enough justice.

A co-worker persuaded me into picking up the novel and I downed it over a few days full of snorts, guffaws, and raucous laughter as I shared inappropriate quotes with anyone in hearing distance. A Confederacy of Dunces follows an amusing entourage of New Orleans inhabitants and perhaps most remarkably Ignatius Reilly. Ignatius is a delightful result of the world of academy and has returned to the common people of New Orleans. A Confederacy of Dunces pursues Reilly through the echelons of the city as he seeks employment ranging from file clerk to hotdog vendor. Along the way he attempts various radical liberation movements to unsettle his New York City girlfriend Myrna Minkoff.

Toole’s title was taken from a Jonathan Swift quote: “When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign that the dunces are all in confederacy against him.”

While reading A Confederacy of Dunces it continually put me in mind of classics such as Rabelais’ Gargantua and Pantagruel, Cervantes’ Don Quixote, Sterne’s Tristram Shandy, and of course Joyce’s Ulysses. All great adventure novels with the central idea of a man pursuing life and various philosophical ideas. Toole’s New Orleans is as meaningful as Joyce’s Dublin. Toole’s novel covers such a breath of material but still remains a hilarious and energetic read. I seldom say this, but truly, A Confederacy of Dunces is a book everyone ought to read.

Conclusion: A definite keeper.