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Friday, September 09, 2005

NEW ORLEANS: A CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES

"When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him."--Jonathan Swift


Role models and mentors are a good thing.
For many years, my role model was described thusly by the Chicago Sun Times

"Ignatius J. Reilly, huge, fractious, obese, a latter-day Garganuta, a Don Quixote of the French Quarter. His story bursts with wholly original characters, denizens of New Orleans lower depths, incredibly true to life dialogue, and the zaniest of series of high and low comic adventures"

After you've sent your check to Katrina Disaster relief, and after you've said a prayer for the thousands of people killed and displaced, and afer you've gone to a shelter to offer hugs, encouragement and maybe a stuffed animal for a child...Do yourself a favor and read "A Confederacy of Dunces" by John Kennedy Toole.
Tragically, Mr. Toole took his own life in 1969, aged thirty two, before this book was published. It was his mother who hounded publishers for years, finally getting an appointment with Walker Percy who presumably to get rid of her, agreed to read the manuscript. The rest is history. The book won the 1981 Pulitzer Prize for literature. Ignatius Reilly is a corpulent, flatulent hero who disdains employment, responsibility and women. His one girlfriend, the feminist Myrna Minkhoff, is pursued and dismissed as a "minx." Mrs. Irene Reilly, Igantius's long suffering Mama, pays the bills, finds comfort in neighborly gossip and bars, and finds herself expected to fetch and carry for the imperious Ignatius. Our hapless hero suffers from poor internal plumbing-his "valve" is the bane of his life and I suspect of those around him- and like Wagner embarks only on "great work" to nobody's gain, not even his own. And yet, Ignatius, if not admirable, is lovable. Toole was a master at creating strong characters and understood that to keep the reader's attention characters must be supremely self confident and easy to admire...also to evoke gratitude that "it's only a novel"..So I find Ignatius!
Valve and all.

Enjoy this evocation of a New Orleans that no longer exists, if it ever did except in John Kennedy Toole's magnificent mind. Now go help the Katrina victims and have a fantastic read!

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