Home / The 30 Things List / 28. Read 300 Books / Book #3 Down: A Confederacy of Dunces
Published on February 13, 2013, by in 28. Read 300 Books.

I swear I will get something about Disneyland up soon.  In the meantime, I’ve finished another book:

Confederacy of Dunces

Book number three of three hundred – 1% of goal completed! – was A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole.  It’s about the havoc caused in New Orleans by the antagonistic protagonist, Ignatius J. Reilly.  In his 30’s, the highly educated and profoundly paranoid Reilly has no job and lives with his mother.  When she forces him to look for work, shenanigans follow, creating a ripple effect that creates drama in the lives of many colorful characters.

Does that make the book sound like a fun romp?  A wacky comedy of errors?  That’s what I thought it would be, especially because I had heard this is one of the funniest books ever written.  I didn’t find it especially funny, fun, or wacky.  But I didn’t think it was terrible either.  I’m very conflicted – just choosing a star rating on Good Reads was difficult.

The Good:

  • It’s extremely well written.  The author skillfully creates interesting, well-rounded characters, with their own identifiable vernacular and mannerisms.  The main cast has so many facets and seem so real, they’re practically non-fiction.  It’s easy to imagine them doing their thing in 1960’s New Orleans.
  • The dialects represented in the book are really fun to read.  Apparently Dunces is considered one of the most accurate depictions of the regional dialects, especially Yat.  It adds to the realism of the characters and makes the book more interesting.  Though it slowed me down because I had to do a lot of sub-vocalization, I still enjoyed it.
  • I love books about New Orleans.  I’m kind of in love with that city, especially as a literary location.  There’s no place like it, and the setting lends a sense of believability to the action.
  • The author did a wonderful job subverting stereotypes in his characters.  Burma Jones, Gus Levy, and Dorian Greene are set up to be archetypes – of the lower class black man, of the greedy business man, of the gay partier – but they all come through as something so much more.  Particularly Jones, who was my favorite character in the book.

The Bad:

  • Oh my god, I hated Ignatius.  Hate hate hate.  He is awful, disgusting, lazy, paranoid, pompous, judgmental, perverted, and again, disgusting.  I realize that was the point, you’re not supposed to like him, but I guess I had too much empathy for the characters that he mistreated.  I just couldn’t stand reading about such a terrible human being.  The comparisons to Don Quixote baffle me.
  • Because I didn’t like Ignatius, his antics seemed cruel and horrible, which took all the ‘funny’ out of it.  I didn’t find any of it amusing, much less laugh inducing.
  • The book spent too much time on Ignatius’s writing, which was so boring.  If the book made me fall asleep, it was always during the ‘journal’ parts.

The Interesting:

  • The book came very close to never making it to print.  Despite some interest, John Kennedy Toole didn’t manage to get Dunces published, which caused him to become depressed and commit suicide at 31.  After his death, his mother spent years trying to get someone to publish the book.  Eventually she got the attention of author and NOLA local Walker Percy by barging into his office and demanding that he read the manuscript.  Percy loved it, became a champion for it, got it published and even contributed a lovely foreword.
  • The film version of the book is considered ‘cursed’ because a few of the people lined up to star have died young, including John Belushi, John Candy, and Chris Farley.  It also seems that no one wants to finance the film – though a more recent version was planned with Will Ferrell in the lead, it’s stalled out.  Which is way unfortunate because I would LOVE to see Mos Def as Burma Jones.

*** UPDATE!  Talk about timing.  Just after I published this review, Cracked.com (my favorite place to learn random useless crap) posted an article called 5 Hilarious Reasons Publishers Rejected Classic Best Sellers and Dunces is the #2 example!  It’s a good summary of the book’s interesting path to publication. Please note that they say it’s considered “the funniest goddamn book ever written,” to which I respectfully disagree.***

Would I recommend it?  Yes.  Sort of.  Maybe.  It is very well written, but I just couldn’t stand the main character, which made it hard for me to read.  If you don’t have a bad case of AEPS (Acute Embarrassment Proximity Syndrome, where the embarrassment of other people, even fictional characters, causes you physical pain), definitely read it!  But if you do, skip it and save yourself some agony.

What book is next?  I’ve already started Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo.  Which is good, because I’m a bit behind for the book club.  Hope I can finish in two weeks!