John Kennedy Toole, A Confederacy of Dunces
Simply put: among the funniest books ever written
An obese, flatulent 30 year-old academia dropout and his widowed codependent muscatel-swigging mother walk into a New Orleans strip bar after a close call with a police officer. So begins Kennedy’s Pulitzer Prize-winning picaresque, published posthumously in 1980. Ignatius J. Reilly’s disdain for modernity and anything that threatens “theology and geometry,” a haughty unwillingness to participate in society outside of his bathtub and an insatiable appetite for cake make him an antihero of epic proportions. But it’s when Ignatius crisscrosses with a cast of quirky personalities — ranging from ostentatious vintage clothier Dorian Greene to senile accountant Miss Trixie — that Confederacy reaches its comic peak. As household money grows tight, the ordinarily doting Mrs. Reilly forces Ignatius to find employment at Levy Pants. After failing to lead a worker uprising at the garment factory (with which he hoped to impress his leftist friend Myrna Minkoff), Ignatius dons a pirate suit and hocks hot dogs, until he becomes entangled with a teen pornography ring. Meanwhile, his mother has formed a bowling league with the tragically inept patrolman who almost arrested Ignatius and is growing increasingly suspicious of her son’s behavior. As the novel hurtles toward its hilarious conclusion, Kennedy melds highbrow literary allusions, absurd plot twists and scatological comedy to stunning effect.