I’ve known about A Confederacy of Dunces since it appeared more than twenty years ago. When I saw it on Bowie’s list, the only thing I could remember was that people thought it was a Borges-style hoax. That is, someone famous wrote a book under a pseudonym and had a woman posing as his mother doggedly pursuing Walker Percy to get it published.
But John Kennedy Toole was a real person who wrote a real tour-de-force and took his own life before it launched. Confederacy has continued to assault its readers’ senses with outrage, humor, and a sense of impending ruination.
I’m only a few pages in, but Toole has left Kerouac in the dust. It’s because of the horror/humor. His plodding repetition about traveling all the long way from New Orleans to Baton Rouge engages everyone – except his mother/chauffeur who is slugging down beers at a bar and doesn’t want to hear the hundredth retelling again. Kerouac wouldn’t have blinked at that little blip on the map.
Toole gives that journey (an hour by car these days, somewhat more by bus) the weight of the Trail of Tears or the Israelites’ passage out of Egypt. He is the only one who can’t see that a lummox with OCD dressed in a hunting cap with earflaps and an odd coat would be the object of laughter. Chaucer’s pilgrims he ain’t.
The bar scene is preceded by a telling scenario of a threatened arrest. He nails the racial divide without overt commentary, but the message is clear.
I need a laugh or five right now, and Ignatius J. Reilly is delivering the goods.