John Kennedy Toole’s novel, A Confederacy of Dunces, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1981, may be the funniest book to ever win the prize in the normally serious category. But the story of the book’s publication and author are sad; Toole committed suicide in 1969, distraught over several rejections from publishers including Simon & Schuster, for whom he had revised the manuscript repeatedly.
Toole’s mother had found his novel, and only through her dedication and devotion, convinced novelist Walter Percy (winner of the National Book Award for Fiction in 1962) to champion Toole’s novel.
As I stated, it’s a funny book. The hero is overweight, more of an anti-hero, a slob named Ignatius J. Reilly who lives with his mother and prefers Early Medieval philosophy to Hollywood and pop culture. The setting is New Orleans in the early sixties. Ignatius gets into a row with an inspector, Patrolman Mancuso. Mancuso is always being punished by his supervisor, by being forced to wear embarrassing costumes and go under in search of “suspicious characters.”
Reportedly, the structure of A Confederacy of Dunces is modeled after the structure of Ignatius’s favorite book, Medieval philosopher Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy. Mancuso’s humiliation and redemption becomes a key subplot in an interwoven cancatanation of catasprophes-involving a sex club and a talking parrot, destruction ofa hot dog cart, and the hostile takeover of a pants factory, and a rendevous into the underground homosexual counter culture all undertaken to impress the devilish Myna Minkoff, a sexually liberated Jewess who in the end provides an action-packed getaway for the completely counter-intuitive Reilly, who is about to be committed to the insane asylum or given a very large promotion.
The plot is fast-paced, peppered with what locals call an accurate description of various New Orleans dialects. The characters are all wildly over-the-top, larger than life, and satirical. I laughed out loud frequently, at the same time marveling at how well constructed the final intersection of various subplots came together.
Trivia: The part of Rielly is said to be cursed. No successful film adaptation of A Confederacy of Dunces has been made…John Belushi, John Candy, and Chris Farley were all once touted to play Ignatius J. Rielly, but none of them lived to see the project to completion. Will Ferrell is reportedly the latest comedian to have been linked to the role. Thankfully, he’s still with us. The film has yet to be made.
(c) 2012, The Hollywood Sentinel, Moira Cue, all rights reserved.