Patrick Kelly



Classic LiteraturePat Kelly

Dear Readers,

I personally read this book and recommend it to others.

Published posthumously in 1980 by the author’s mother, A Confederacy of Dunces was labeled by the New York Times Book Review as “nothing less than a grand comic fugue.” If you have read the novel, you will understand why it earned its young author a Pulitzer Prize. If you haven’t read the novel, you must run to your favorite bookstore to procure a copy. You will not regret it. (Here is a link to Amazon’s product listing.)

I first read the book in the early eighties soon after my sister--a voracious reader of fiction--strongly recommended it. But when a good friend recently told me that this is his all-time favorite novel, I put it on my to-re-read list.

Holy Aioli. This is novel funny. I seldom laugh out loud when reading; the occasional chuckle is about as far as I go, but A Confederacy of Dunces reduced me to uncontrollable giggling.

Ignatius J. Reilly is one of the most outrageously comic characters I’ve come across, ranking up there with Don Quixote and Falstaff. Obese, slothful, and delightfully intellectual, Ignatius lives with his mother and is unemployed. One of his favorite activities is to attend popular movies and then ferociously criticize them. Here, he offers his unsolicited review to helpless moviegoers in the theatre:

“Good grief. Is the smut supposed to be comedy?” Ignatius demanded in the darkness. “I have not laughed once. My eyes can hardly believe this highly discolored garbage. That woman must be lashed until she drops. She is undermining our civilization. She is a Chinese communist agent sent over to destroy us. Please! Someone with some decency get to the fuse box. Hundreds of people in this theater are being demoralized.”

And on and on.

A series of unfortunate but hilarious economic calamities forces Ignatius to look for a job, which drives the plot forward. He is hired as an office administrator for Levy Pants, a men’s clothing manufacturer. Unbeknownst to the office manager, Ignatius replies by letter to a downstream buyer who has complained about product quality. After berating the customer, Ignatius closes the letter with this paragraph:

We do not wish to be bothered in the future by such tedious complaints. Please confine your correspondence to orders only. We are a busy and dynamic organization whose mission needless effrontery and harassment can only hinder. If you molest us again, sir, you may feel the sting of the lash across your pitiful shoulders.

This letter--though well-intentioned--sets off a chain of events with huge downstream consequences.

I put the novel on my Christmas list.

I put the novel on my Christmas list.

Many colorful characters share the pages with Ignatius: his mother, her bowling team companions, the hot dog vending business manager, the bar owner with a suspicious sideline, the janitor who can’t the see dirt on the floor because of his dark sunglasses, etc. For a glorious three hundred and ninety-four pages, John Kennedy Toole pits these well-drawn characters against each other in one side-splitting scene after another.

Whether it’s for the first, second, or third time, do yourself a favor and read A Confederacy of Dunces.

Best, Pat.


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