John Kennedy Toole Alan Friedman - Essay

Alan Friedman

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

There are readers—and I am one—who keep calm in the face of the stormiest comic novels. Wit, farce, satire, nonsense: I may be vastly tickled, but I do not laugh out loud. Till now. To the charms of … "A Confederacy of Dunces" I succumbed, stunned and seduced, page after page, vocal with delight. It gave me such pleasure that I would be ungrateful not to report here at the outset that, for all its flaws, it is a masterwork of comedy. (p. 7)

A dozen characters bounce off each other, physically and verbally, through a plot of such disarming inventiveness that it seems to generate itself effortlessly. It generates at least two other great comic figures: Burma Jones, meditating sabotage in a thundercloud of smoke, and the superannuated Miss Trixie, dying to retire. The plot, as it spins, also generates the city of New Orleans in hot, sharp, solid, ethnic detail.

A pungent work of slapstick, satire and intellectual incongruities—yet flawed in places by its very virtues. Characters are overdone; caricatures are done to death; there are swatches of repetition. The relentless concentration on hilarious dialogue results frequently in pages that read like a TV script for a situation comedy. Now and then Ignatius's marvelously bombastic voice spills over into the narrative voice proper, resulting at these moments in a prose whose intent may be humorous, but whose effect is ponderous. Whenever the author goes out of his...

(The entire section is 420 words.)