How would you psych up for a trip to New Orleans? I am re-reading A Confederacy of Dunces, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel that epitomizes the city, the tale that puts the color in the phrase “colorful characters.”
I read Dunces first for the funny, fantastic madcap story. But re-reading it, I discover its layers, the sadness behind the bluster and the universal humanity behind each of the New Orleans locals: Miss Trixie, who just wants to retire and get the Thanksgiving turkey owed her, asleep again at her desk; Dorian Greene, the foppish French Quarter habitue; and Burma Jones, a janitor working below the “minimal wage.”
And the anti-hero, Ignatius J. Reilly. I just like to hear the sound of “Ignatius J. Reilly” over again in my head.
Ignatius is sloth himself, blaming the world and the fools around him for everything that happens. And everything that doesn’t happen. Oh, Fortuna!
Especially poignant is the relationship between Ignatius and his mother. He is cruel and condescending to her yet he makes a show of putting her on the maternal pedestal in public all while not fooling anyone. Mrs. Reilly refers to her son as “my boy” and appears not to understand or care when she is being disrespected.
But she does care and she does get fed up. She makes “her boy” get a job and surprisingly he does, first at Levy Pants, then as a hot dog vendor in the French Quarter. By the end, she is ready to have him committed.
The author, John Kennedy Toole, committed suicide thinking his book would never be published. The novel was published in 1980, eleven years after Toole’s death, thanks to his mother pounding endlessly on publishing doors.
Wait! Who does that sound like? Mrs. Reilly, is that you?