During my trip to New Orleans for entrepreneur week and the NOLABound program, a fellow participant told me about the book A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. He said it takes place in New Orleans and features many of the sights and sounds we were experiencing during our trip. When I got home, I started to read this book, and it made my post-NOLA experience that much richer and more vibrant.
I must say though that I thought the New Orleans setting was more enjoyable to me than the rest of the book. I found the writing and plot quite frustrating and at times ridiculous, which I think is the whole point of the genre. It felt like the entire story was a bunch of imbeciles living dysfunctionally. Fortunately, as I got deeper into the book and read some analyses of it online, I got to appreciate the subtlety of the writing even more and some of the lessons and cultural commentary that is underlying much of the apparent surface layer of stupidity.
The book is about a lazy, fat, educated grown man who lives at home with this alcoholic mother and gets into various misadventures with an incompetent policeman and various crooks and criminals around the city. The main character, Ignatius J. Reilly, feels like he was born in the wrong century as his language and mannerisms are better suited to medieval times. The more I got to understand him and the other characters, the more I actually began to empathize and feel their pain. I was really surprised the book was able to do that, and I can see why it won all the awards and praise it has.
I also really enjoyed hearing the various New Orleans accents and slang (they did a great job in the audiobook). For example, I loved how Jones kept saying "Oooh, wee!", "Whoa!", "Hey!", and "Shit!" at the end of almost every single one of his sentences.
Upon completing the book, I realized that all the characters see the world differently and think the others are crazy and that they are normal. For the "objective" reader, all the characters seem disturbed and dysfunctional in their own way but at the same time lovable, pitiable, and understandable. I liked how the plot made all the characters' paths cross and affect each other. The societal issues of racial conflict, vagrancy, African American rights, wages, and modern degeneracy all rang through in the subtext of the story.
Some of the other issues or problems explored in the book:
For anyone who wants to learn about New Orleans or wants the challenge of a troubling story to unravel, this book is a great read.