A Confederacy of Dunces

“I am at this moment writing a lengthy indictment against our century. When my brain begins to reel from my literary labors, I make an occasional cheese dip.”

Some of the funniest people you will ever talk to use comedy as a defense mechanism.  Why?  Well, some people need to laugh to keep from crying.  It’s a good temporary solution to depression and it has fewer long-term effects than drugs or alcohol.  John Kennedy Toole was this type of person.  After finishing the manuscript for A Confederacy of Dunces, Toole sent it off to a few different publishers, only to be rejected, even after making revisions.  After a while, his spirit was shot.  In an elevated state of depression, he toured the country in his car, eventually killing himself.

The only reason I bring up his tragic background (besides the fact that its included in the Foreword), is because beneath the hilarity of A Confederacy of Dunces, there is a great sadness.  Ignatius, the bumbling buffoon anti-hero of the story resembles Toole in many ways.  Throughout the story, he scribbles away in his big chief tablet essay after essay, putting significance into something he subconsciously knows will never be read by the public at large.  In classic picaresque form, the protagonist seems himself as rational but the reader sees him as megalomaniacal, cruel, and in a world all his own.   Ignatius seems to make trouble for everyone else in his life but he truly believes that he is always making the right decision.

However, as I mentioned earlier, the sad often use comedy as a way out and this book is one of the funniest novels I’ve ever read.  To say that I’m shocked that a movie adaptation has never been made is an understatement (though I understand it has been attempted many times with doomed results).  Toole’s novel did not see the light of day until it was posthumously published in 1980, eleven years after his death (where it then went on to win a Pulitzer Prize and sell millions of copies).  This book is pure comedy and if you have a sense of humor, you will be in stitches the whole time.  The sadness merely informs the comedy and gives it depth; it does not detract from the frequency of laugh-out-loud moments.

This is a fine book and it is a true tragedy that John Kennedy Toole was not able to live to see its publication.  Like many authors before him that were rejected in their time, it is a shame that Toole was so hard on himself and it is unfair that his genius was discovered too late.  I can only hope that like the book, the movie adaptation is someday made.



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