A Confederacy of Dunces, John Toole

The exposition of this book takes place in New Orleans, where we meet Ignatius Riley. He is large man who lives with his mother, has a master’s degree, and has only left New Orleans for a job interview in Baton Rouge. Despite these misgivings, he comes off as a very intelligent individual with a sly tendency to get out of trouble by a copious amount of excuses and a knack for getting himself in trouble. He speaks often of his “valve” closing (whatever that means, no one else throughout the book seems to know either) and of his “worldview.” The reader comes to find out that he majored in some kind of medieval philosophy, which also encompasses his particular “worldview” that abhors Protestantism. Suffice it to say that Igantius Riley is a man you will at times love, and at times cringe at his absurdity.

As the title suggests, this book revolves around a series of people who act.. well.. Dunce-like. Ignatius’ mother, Mrs. Riley, gets into a car wreck early on, and she forces Ignatius to look for work to help pay back some of the damage. Patrolman Mancuso brings an old man down to the station and is repeatedly punished by dressing up in absurd costumes throughout the book due to his incompetency. Gonzales is a worker at “Levy Pants” where Mr. and Mrs. Levy constantly bicker, and Gonzales has to fend off an uprising of the factory workers (incidentally, sparked by Ignatius). There are others: Lurleen, the selfish bar owner who runs some kind of underground business on the side and puts water in the booze; Jones, an recently released convict that gets a job at the bar as a janitor; Darleen, as Ron put it, “the prostitute with a heart of gold” (that’s really the best way to describe her); and Trixie, the old woman who should have retired from Levy pants many, many years ago.

What the author does an absolutely amazing job of is coordinating all the various subplots together to form a coherent story, where one feels the ripples of a decision in a completely unrelated storyline. The intertwined cause-and-effect scheme is nothing less than brilliant. While Ron and Mark thought this book was laugh out loud worthy (that’s what I took from their reviews at least), I found myself not laughing very much throughout the book. In fact, only one or two times did I crack a smile. It is quite humorous, the various situations Ignatius gets himself in and then tries to explain it away because of their vastly inferior intellectual capacity, but I did not find myself in fits over this particular book. In any case, I would highly recommend this book due to it’s incredible story telling. And who knows: perhaps you will laugh more than I did!

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