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A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole

Louisiana State University Press, 1980

Ignatius J. Reilly is the antihero extraordinaire. It’s a testament to John Kennedy Toole’s craft that we grow so attached to someone who spends every waking minute pondering the faults of others and judging the myriad of dunces that surround him.

In the shadow under the green visor of the cap Ignatius J. Reilly’s supercilious blue and yellow eyes looked down upon the other people waiting under the clock at the D. H. Holmes department store, studying the crowd of people for signs of bad taste in dress. Several of the outfits, Ignatius noticed, were new enough and expensive enough to be properly considered offenses against taste and decency. Possession of anything new or expensive only reflected a person’s lack of theology and geometry; it could even cast doubts upon one’s soul.

One of the reasons Confederacy has become such a success is because its angst is universal. We’ve all been there, wanting to scream out at the top of our lungs, enveloped by a world full of idiots. Just today, I was trying to get off a crowded elevator (it could have been the EL), and some jamoke pushes her way in before anyone can try and get off. Ever see anybody ignore the typical airplane deboarding protocol (front rows first) or have you ever gone for a drive and been forced to risk nothing short of your life as you try and steer clear of insane, road rage-filled drivers whose lives are infinitely more important than your own? What about the Bush presidential elections? It seems almost impossible to believe that anyone could have voted for him once, but a second time too? After his first criminally disastrous term? Then again, it’s really not hard to believe at all. Not in a world of racists, bigots, sexists, and other lunatics. (Not you of course.) And so, with Ignatius, it is simply refreshing to see the world through the eyes of someone who shares your pain and who isn’t shy about speaking his mind.

Because John Kennedy Toole never knew that his novel would ever be published let alone would win the Pulitzer Prize (tragically, he committed suicide at age 32), there is certainly a dark cloud that hovers over the buffoonery. It is a strange dichotomy that the Category 5 humor flooding so many pages of the New Orleans-based novel is tinted by such inadvertent sadness. You cannot help but ponder the reality that Toole’s talents could have provided the world of letters with voluminous treasures. As it is, we’re simply left with all the more reason to rejoice in each and every episode that comprises the crazy, sad, uplifting, uproarious, and ultimately heartwarming life of Ignatius J. Reilly, a character that lives up to the advanced billing of simply unforgettable.