Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Completed: A Confederacy of Dunces


Talk about taking one for the team! Our read of A Confederacy of Dunces to start off the year came about in a really weird way. I had posted some dumb Facebook challenge--sum up the plot of your favorite novel in six words---and my husband posted a six word description of A Confederacy of Dunces. You texted me the equivalent of WUT?!?! and a book challenge was born. 

Basically, we agreed to read (re-read for you, first time read for me) this book, and Darrell agreed to read along with us and be our special guest. 

When we started, your two mindsets could not be more different. Lol. 

The Rereaders and DNFer
Darrell first read this book in a college class (editor's note: LONG TIME AGO!) on Southern Fiction. One of the most interesting parts to me is that Darrell said, "changed my perspective on the South." As you know, the South is not Darrell's favorite place (editor's note: this is a radical understatement), so reading something that helped explain this place and that was also a farce was a real win for him. Farce has always been one of his favorite genres in comedy, and he didn't know it existed in "literature" until he read this book.

Kelly had already read it and *ahem* disliked it. She read it with a book group, and as far as she can remember, they read it as straight fiction, not as a farce/satire/etc. She cannot remember anyone thinking the book was funny; everyone hated the main character and everything he did and wondered why anyone would enjoy this book.

Jenny had started this book at some point---it was her husband's favorite book of all time!--but honestly found it so tedious that she gave up in the first 30 or so pages. "We can still have true love and different tastes in books," she remembers thinking.

This time around, Kelly and Darrell read it via aBook while Jenny read the pBook.

Conversation 1
I for one were really happy we talked to Darrell about it as we read. Having him keep saying, "Don't you think it's funny?" helped me get to the parts that were truly humorous. For me, that wasn't until Ignatius got the job at the Levy Pants factory.

Darell pointed out that the most biting satire is about work: who works, who doesn't, who has to work, who doesn't work, who is made to work. We all liked the character of Trixie, who is forxed to work even though she only wants to retire. Furthermore, with the setting being New Orleans--- it places the book firmly in relationship to the Civil Rights movement. This leads to the ultimate question: what is the ultimate concept of work in a place like the South, where people were forced to work? This setting allows the author to explore modern influences in our society and how they've adapted to the systems of our culture--sexism, racism, feminism, etc.

Kelly noticed that the author was an especially astute observer of race relations, which is not a skill we attribute  to that many white folks, especially white folks in the 60s. In fact, with this ridiculous character, the author recognizes that this is not the right way to bridge the racial divide. This is a topic that is being addressed far more publicly today (2017) so it's interesting to see Toole recognizing it in the 1960s. Darrell agreed, saying that the best part about the writing how observational it is, hitting on all these details without shying away from what he sees.

Darrell talked about the description of what he saw as the "passivity of southern black culture" in the text. He went on to say, "My relationship to people I grew up with in the south--I had a friend like Ignatius, his dad committed suicide--his house looked like a plantation. He never worked! I always had a job, but he never had to work. And the whole notion of work was scary. He had an elitist perspective about work." I thought this was especially interesting because I think one of the things that Darrell and I have most in common is a belief in hard work.

We wrapped up the first conversation by talking about some of the female characters, especially the Mother. She's this fascinating creature that is a complete paradox: nature vs nurture; her pride and intolerance of her son; her spoiling and shaming of him. Kelly pointed out that the "donut scene" where she offers Mancuso the leftover, picked over donuts is the author's way of making sure we know that Mom is the one who created and is feeding the beast that is Ignatius. Jenny did a lot of inappropriate giggling at all of the homoerotic imagery used by Ignatious---lots of hot dogs and Dr. Nuts in this book.

Kelly and Darrell both said that the aBook is terrific and laughed over Jones' pronunciation of "whoa" and "ooowee."

Convo 2:
I didn't take as many notes this time. We talked a lot about how this book is character-driven vs. plot-driven, and the various challenges that presents to the reader.

The plot itself just builds to a farcical crescendo, the most memorable part of which might be Ignatius running around New Orleans with a cutlass! Darrell admired how the author was crafty in the way he created the story, demonstrating how we're all interconnected. We can complain about everything but you'd be surprised how much gravitas you carry for the people around you. Darrell said, "There's no plot!" and Jenny grumbled, "Yes, that's my problem!" Lol.

As a character, Ignatius always blames everyone else for his problems, but his perception of why things are the way they are---fortuna--which compels everything to happen, and he's powerless to help it. We all thought he was pretty loathsome and unwilling to accept any responsibility, but he's  a catalyst, making things happen for all the characters around him. Darrell thought that in this way, Ignatius stands in for the South itself, it carries everyone down a road, it impacts who they are, their outcomes,  but anyone can better their situation. He thinks that the people who end up okay have some sort of impetus, motivation, or drive.

The ending was sort of a let down. Since I was the only one reading a pBook, I could tell that the book was ending, but Kelly said she was surprised it had ended. Especially with the frenetic pace of the plot up until the street fight, the ending just seemed to lose its steam. Darrell, though, pointed out that it played, tempo-wise, very much like a Mardi Gras funeral. The slowness, the mournfulness, seemed almost purposeful.

I honestly would not have enjoyed the book nearly as much without all the conversation, and I'm sure that Darrell and Kelly felt the same way.

Signing off until Putin strikes. Ooowee!

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