A real-life Confederacy of Dunces records the "dysfunctional corporate family'' history of a New Orleans institution, Lucky Dogs, Inc.
The company's hotdog-shaped vending carts are a French Quarter fixture; its motley crew of transient wienie vendors were the apparent inspiration for John Kennedy Toole's Pulitzer Prizewinning farce. Strahan, a Lucky Dog vendor and manager intermittently since 1968, is the straight man among the clowns. He's a self-described "conservative redneck'' whose disapproval of gay lifestyles and unenviable position of authority over a constantly changing and largely unmanageable army of Ignatius J. Reillys lends his account of Big Easy street life (especially portions dealing with the quarter's randy days during the '60s and '70s) an air of censoriousness. The Lucky Dogs crew--restless drifters, Vietnam vets, drunks, small-time swindlers, transvestites, carnies, and the occasional college kid--suffer misadventures more pathetic than madcap. Strahan mediates their disputes with loan sharks, pimps, irate landlords, and jealous lovers with wearied aplomb, and his accounts of these confrontations are largely tributes to his own judiciousness and wisdom. He's obviously a man of character (more than once he rehires employees who previously skipped town with the day's receipts) and a heads-up businessman: When a four-star restaurant banishes a cart for stealing too many customers, Strahan asks for the request in writing, then threatens to run it as an ad in the local paper. He guides the company's expansion into New Orleans's casinos and overseas, eventually landing a spot at that haven of American street cuisine, Euro-Disney.
Strahan's prose, over-salted with adverbs, bromides, and sweeping generalizations, is well suited to dishing an entrepreneurial success story. But as an interpretive, first-person history of New Orleans's funky street life, Managing Ignatius can't cut the mustard.