A Confederacy of Dunces Book Review—Lunchtime Lit With Mel Carriere

Updated on February 15, 2019
Mel Carriere profile image

While not technically a Neckbeard, book reviewing mailman Mel Carriere's bad hygiene and peculiar nocturnal habits get him accused of it.

Neckbeards of The World Unite

Although the term Neckbeard may have originated only as early as 2002, the phenomenon of a slovenly, obese, socially awkward nerd dwelling perpetually in his mother's basement has existed since homo-sapiens first crawled out of his cave and shaved his unsightly chin hair. A subset of humanity, referred to throughout the centuries as geeks, dweebs, dorks, nerds, and lately neckbeards, has persistently refused to conform to good hygiene, grooming, and conduct standards. Just as Christ said "For ye have the poor with you always," so will we always have neckbeards, perpetuating their wasted existence, jealousy guarding their My Little Pony memorabilia, and carrying on with the same traits across generations under different aliases.

So we have A Conderacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Tool, a one-hit wonder author who explored the theme of neckbeardism in an unlikely locale. This setting is 1960's New Orleans, a city known for graceful, flamboyant, lithe-bodied people in skimpy costume, not hairy, drooling, farting oafs wearing flannel. Although the term "neckbeard" does not appear once among the book's 124,470 estimated words, the novel still seems to verify that these disagreeable rejects of society exist regardless of geography and time, making life miserable across the length and breadth of the planet since the time when most people stopped dragging their knuckles in the dirt.

Dunces author John Kennedy Toole
Dunces author John Kennedy Toole | Source

Lunchtime Lit Rules

Instead of making common cause with the Bronie herd and perusing his Magic the Gathering card collection, Mel's foray into geekdom consists of reading novels on his half hour postal lunch break, which he then reviews. These books come from diverse sources - he buys a few, he steals most from his son (returned stained with lunchtime leavings - deal with it Junior), and every once in a while a book literally looks for him, eager for his sagacious commentary. Although not as excessively obsessive as the average nerd with sagging jowls and smelly feet, Mel adheres rigidly to the rule that these books are exclusive to his postal lunch break.

Lunchtime Lit Year to Date Recap

Book
Pages
Word Count (Est.)
Date Started
Date Finished
Lunchtimes Consumed
Killing Patton
331
106,000
6/21/2016
7/11/2016(Slurpee Day)
15
The Winter of Our Discontent
277
95,800
7/12/2016
8/2/2016
14
The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide to The Galaxy
783
295,940
8/3/2016
10/15/2016
38
Kafka on The Shore
465
173,100
10/17/2016
11/25/2016
22
Life and Fate
848
309,960
11/26/2016
2/15/2017
49
The Mountain Shadow
838
285,650
2/17/2017
4/28/2017
37
A Confederacy of Dunces
392
124,470
4/29/2017
6/5/2017
17

*Six other titles, with a total estimated word count of 1,791,400 and 237 lunchtimes consumed, have been reviewed under the guidelines of this series.

**Word counts are estimated by hand-counting a statistically significant 23 pages, then extrapolating this average page count across the entire book. When the book is available on a word count website, I rely on that total.

***If the dates are lagging, it is because I am still slogging along, trying to catch up after a prolonged absence from Hub Pages. Someday this list may be current, but don't hold your breath.

Get A Job

The theme of A Confederacy of Dunces is one that most of us 55 plus types with children still living at home can relate to - Get a job, Junior! Ignatius J. Reilly, a Tulane graduate, is given an ultimatum by Mom to find employment. A man of means has taken an interest in her, but not in the flatulating, obese, perpetually disgruntled baggage that weighs her down. Like many neckbeards who occasionally emerge from their unhygienic dens to slime their way across our paths, Ignatius uses a cultivated belief in his own intellectual and moral superiority to justify his aversion to work. Cruel circumstances have forced him to seek gainful employment, however, so we journey though his Odyssey as clerk in a trouser factory, where inciting a strike forces him out the door, then as a stint as a hot dog vendor, where he is forced to dress as a pirate. These mundane experiences are colored by a pastiche of lively characters, each one unique in his or her own dysfunctional way, all lending to the bounce and energy that bounds through the book from beginning to end.

Here at any rate is Ignatius Reilly, without progenitor in any literature I know of - a mad Oliver Hardy, a fat Don Quixote, a perverse Thomas Aquinas rolled into one - who is in violent revolt against the modern age, lying in his flannel nightshirt, in a back bedroom on Constantinople Street in New Orleans, who between gigantic seizures of flatulence and eructations is filling dozens of Big Chief tablets with invective.

— Walker Percy - In the forward to A Confederacy of Dunces
New Orleans at night is the incongruous setting of much of Dunces' neckbeard activity.
New Orleans at night is the incongruous setting of much of Dunces' neckbeard activity. | Source

Dancing on A Neckbeard's Grave

Okay, so it's a great read. But what is truly fascinating about A Confederacy of Dunces is the story of the author himself, whose tragic, untimely end leads to the question of whether a writer should be considered successful if he or she obtained fame posthumously. This argument, being one of semantics, metaphysics, or better yet theology, provokes speculation whether a posthumously recognized artist ever enjoys fame on any level of reality. Does such a creative spirit live on through its work, or while we're all yucking it up flipping through the pages of Dunces or buzzing with an adrenaline dose from a morbid Lovecraft tale, have the worm-eaten brains of these authors long ago ceased to have any connection to their creations?

Franz Kafka, HP Lovecraft, Edgar Allen Poe, Emily Dickinson, Stieg Larsson - here are but a few neckbeards who died in complete or near complete obscurity. Dunces author John Kennedy Toole finds good company among them, there in that great 4chan chatroom in the sky, populated by frustrated unsung authors who died penniless and sometimes unpublished, only to have a relative or friend dust off a forgotten manuscript years after its creator's death, to great fanfare and financial success. It ain't effing fair, say you, but it happens all the time.

Only Toole's mother had the persistence to get her son's novel in print, force-feeding it into publication after rejection by a host of publishers. Alas, persistence is a quality sorely lacking among many creative types, who tend to be dreamy and devoid of any practical survival skills. Unfortunately, it was 11 years after her son's death that Mom triumphed where son could not.

This is not to lay blame on John Kennedy Toole for lack of effort. After writing Dunces during a tour in the army, he submitted the story to noted editor Robert Gottlieb of the Simon & Schuster publishing house. Gottlieb recognized Toole's talent, but felt that the novel was pointless. Indeed, after reading my summary, you the reader probably feels it sounds pointless too. Not to put too fine a point on it, the lack of any point does not take away from the novel's immense capacity to entertain.

Despite several rewrites, Toole's book was still not up to Simon & Schuster's standards. After being rejected by other publishers, the young author shelved the manuscript. Then, at the tender age of 31, he ended his life by running a garden hose from the exhaust of his car into the cab.

Eventually, Mom succeeded in immortalizing her deceased offspring, if the immortality of an individual really can be achieved by the survival of his or her work. Finding a smeared copy of her son's manuscript, she pestered a college professor until he reluctantly broke down and read it. A Confederacy of Dunces was finally published in 1980, then won the Pulitzer Prize in 1981.

So I ask you again, dear Lunchtime Lit reader, is there a grin on John Kennedy Toole's bleached skull as he contemplates his name on this most prestigious of American literary awards, or Is this just an example of the last cruel blow of the fickle fates, kicking him in the ass on the way out?

Most neckbeards will never lay eyes on a rack like that, but they are still subject, like everyone else, to the fickle fingers of fate.
Most neckbeards will never lay eyes on a rack like that, but they are still subject, like everyone else, to the fickle fingers of fate. | Source

Never Count Out a Neckbeard

I can't quite understand why Wikipedia calls A Confederacy of Dunces a "canonical work of literature of the Southern United States," other than that we book reviewers love to write pretentious sounding slop like that. To me, Dunces does not come across as local color at all. It could have been set anywhere from Astoria to Albuquerque to Albany, anywhere where exhausted mothers struggle to boot the boy out of the house.

In this light, I suppose the moral of the story to take away from John Kennedy Toole's life is never to count a Neckbeard out. Don't be dismissive of an unemployed oaf just because he sleeps until two, then uses emotional extortion to terrorize his mother until his sugar high finally crashes him at 3 AM, after an all night Twitch session with similarly sloppy, socially awkward kindred spirits. Sometimes there are hidden treasures buried in unkempt basement lairs where the neckbeard burrows. Sometimes, in an uncharacteristic burst of self-discipline, during the prolonged pause after raging at Mom for overcooked fish sticks, some dazzling dork pens a beautiful poem or produces a brilliant, timeless tribute to Neckbeardism. This is what A Confederacy of Dunces is and will remain, enduring through generations across the face of the planet, ringing true in whatever seedy, subterranean packrat's den a neckbeard may dwell.

Questions & Answers

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      • Mel Carriere profile imageAUTHOR

        Mel Carriere 

        8 months ago from San Diego California

        It's a good one Linda for any time and place. Thanks for dropping in.

      • AliciaC profile image

        Linda Crampton 

        8 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Like Bill, I've never heard of the term neckbeard before. I appreciate the education and the book review. The story sounds interesting and entertaining.

      • Mel Carriere profile imageAUTHOR

        Mel Carriere 

        8 months ago from San Diego California

        Bill, you have to live around a couple of 20 somethings to stay in touch with some of the lingo. Rent a room to a Neckbeard and your old school ideas will go right out with yesterday's garbage. Thanks for dropping in.

      • billybuc profile image

        Bill Holland 

        8 months ago from Olympia, WA

        Oddly, Mel, I've never heard of that word...neckbeard. I certainly know a couple, but I've never heard them called that. Love the review. I'm tempted to give it a try.

      • Mel Carriere profile imageAUTHOR

        Mel Carriere 

        8 months ago from San Diego California

        Thanks Mills. Perhaps had he lived in the online era, JK Toole may have found an audience and he might still be with us. Great point.

      • profile image

        Pat Mills 

        8 months ago from East Chicago, Indiana

        I might have some qualities of a neckbeard, but I have learned to cut out the middle man thanks to online publishing.Besides, I have somehow managed to keep a job for quite some time. This book sounds like a good one. Thanks for sharing.

      • Mel Carriere profile imageAUTHOR

        Mel Carriere 

        8 months ago from San Diego California

        Almost counts in horseshoes, hand grenades, and neckbeards, John. I'm off to shave before work lest I start to look the part. Have a great day or night, whatever it is there on the flip side of the planet.

      • Jodah profile image

        John Hansen 

        8 months ago from Queensland Australia

        Haha, Mel, I don't currently have a neckbeard, but one of my sons does (and almost fits the profile.)

      • Mel Carriere profile imageAUTHOR

        Mel Carriere 

        8 months ago from San Diego California

        I guess they even have neckbeards down under, Jodah? It's a tight knit, proud fraternity. Thanks for checking in with your encouraging words.

      • Jodah profile image

        John Hansen 

        8 months ago from Queensland Australia

        I enjoyed this review, Mel. Your light-hearted humorous writing style is always engaging. This is one book that I certainly will consider reading. The author's back story is also very interesting and rather tragic. It is also sad that I seem to be attracted to books that are published posthumously... Steig Larsson's Girl With the Dragon Tattoo series being a favourite of mine and Robert Ludlum's Jason Bourne series (both continued by other authors even). May neckbeards unite! Nice work.

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