Friday, December 31, 2010

192 (2010 #57). A Confederacy of Dunces

by John Kennedy Toole,
read by Barrett Whitener

I chose this audiobook because my book club back in Washington was reading and discussing the book.  I'd heard the backstory - the book was rejected by publishers, the author committed suicide in 1939 at age 32, and his mother pushed relentlessly to get the book published, which happened in 1980, and it then won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1981.

Set in New Orleans in an undefined time period (probably the early 1960s, when Toole wrote the book), the story revolves around the amusing adventures of 30-year-old Ignatius Jacques Reilly, who is overeducated and underemployed, as he tries to find (and keep) a job (but work as little as possible). One gets a feel for what Ignatius is like from the first two paragraph in the book:

A green hunting cap squeezed the top of the fleshy balloon of a head. The green earflaps, full of large ears and uncut hair and the fine bristles that grew in the ears themselves, stuck out on either side like turn signals indicating two directions at once. Full, pursed lips protruded beneath the bushy black moustache and, at their corners, sank into little folds filled with disapproval and potato chip crumbs.  In the shadow under the green visor of the cap Ignatius J. Reilly's supercilious blue and yellow eyes looked down upon the other people waiting under the clock at the D. H. Holmes department store, studying the crowd of people for signs of bad taste in dress.  Several of the outfits, Ignatius noted, were new enough and expensive enough to be properly considered offenses against taste and decency.  Possession of anything new or expensive only reflected a person's lack of theology and geometry; it could even cast doubts upon one's soul.

Ignatius himself was dressed comfortably and sensibly.  The hunting cap prevented head colds.  The voluminous tweed trousers were durable and permitted unusually free locomotion.  Their pleats and nooks contained pockets of warm, stale air that soothed Ignatius.  The plaid flannel shirt made a jacket unnecessary while the muffler guarded exposed Reilly skin between earflap and collar.  The outfit was acceptable by any theological and geometrical standards, however abstruse, and suggested a rich inner life.

Read by professional audiobook narrator and public speaking instructor Barrett Whitener, it comes to life with the distinct voices he creates for each of the memorable characters.  Among them are Ignatius' sort-of girlfriend Myrna "the minx" Minkoff; his widowed mother Irene, her friend Santa Battaglia and the latter's nephew Patrolman Mancuso (who tries to arrest Ignatius at the beginning of the book), and her suiter Claude Robicheaux; Gus Levy, his wife, and the employees of Levy Pants, the elderly Miss Trixie and Gonzalez the office manager (Miss Trixie always calls him Gomez); and the employees of the Night of Joy nightclub, the evil owner Lana Lee, Darlene the stripper, and most especially, Burma Jones, the black janitor. Whitener is especially outstanding with Jones' jive vernacular and Ignatius' bass bellowing.

The book is full of funny subplots that all tie together at the end in an unexpected way. Recommended.

© Amanda Pape - 2010

[This audiobook and a hardbound copy for reference were borrowed from and returned to my university library.]

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