Thursday, January 17, 2008

An Aspiring Intellectual Deadbeat

"I dust a bit ... in addition, I am at the moment writing a lengthy indictment against our century. When my brain begins to reel from my literary labors, I make an occasional cheese dip."
-Ignatius J. Reilly

I just finished "A Confederacy of Dunces" by John Kennedy Toole earlier this week. I guess those Pulitzer Prize people know what they are doing, because the book is hilarious. I was wondering and worrying a bit about where it was all going at certain points, but holy shit does it come together at the end. If you haven't read this book, you're missing out.

The protagonist of the story is Ignatius J. Reilly, an elephant of a man who lives with his mother and has, let's say, a "unique" view of the world. Throughout the novel he gets into all kinds of adventures through his jobs at a pants company and as a hot dog vendor. He encounters a variety of obstacles and adversaries to his questionable goals (the crusade for Moorish dignity?) including birds, plainclothes police officers, violent lesbians, a drunken driving accident, Nazi pornographers and orphans.

The book offers a portrait of New Orleans so well defined that some suggested they use it as a rebuilding guide after Katrina. That is not a joke, I don't think. The dialog is unique and often hilarious, with local inflections and what-not. Whoa!

There are a bunch of other memorable characters besides Ignatius. Burma Jones for example, the constantly smoking young black man who sees all behind his dark glasses. Or Trixie, the senile old bat who works with Ignatius at one point and calls him Gloria. Trixie also gets false teeth, which she uses to bite people. You can't make this stuff up.

How it the book came to be is an interesting story in itself. Toole killed himself before the book was published. His mother found the manuscript and eventually was able to get it published after she brought it to novelist Walter Percy, who also wrote this in the foreword.

But Toole's greatest achievement is Ignatius Reilly himself, intellectual, ideologue, deadbeat, goof-off, glutton, who should repel the reader with his gargantuan bloats, his thunderous contempt and one-man war against everybody -- Freud, homosexuals, heterosexuals, Protestants, and the assorted excesses of modern times. Imagine an Aquinas gone to pot, transported to New Orleans whence he makes a wild foray through the swamps to LSU at Baton Rouge, where his lumber jacket is stolen in the faculty men's room where he is seated, overcome by mammoth gastrointestinal problems. His pyloric valve periodically closes in response to the lack of a "proper geometry and theology" in the modern world.
So, uh, yeah. He's also dressed as a pirate for like half the book.

Final note: Apparently there have been many efforts to make a Confederacy of Dunces movie. Chris Farley, John Belushi, John Candy, and most recently Will Farrell have all been in the fold to play Ignatius. But who knows if it'll ever happen.


Anonymous said...

Maybe if I killed myself my fucking novel would finally get published...what, too soon?


charles said...

Hah, burn.

It's funny you should post about this book, thope. It's been on my desk waiting patiently for me to finish Shogun by James Clavell, a book whose density gives Moby Dick a run for its money.

Anonymous said...

The foreward sounds oddly like its describing someone I know.

Sean said...

You should read The Road by Cormac McCarthy. It also won the Pulitzer Prize. It's the War and Peace of post-apocalyptic America novels. Wait, what does that mean...