Unfortunately, this is all we'll have of Toole's talent; he committed suicide in 1969, age 32, leaving only this astounding...

A CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES

A masterpiece of character comedy finally published more than ten years after its writing, thanks to novelist Walker Percy—who furnishes a foreword.

The character? Ignatius J. Reilly—reader of Boethius and drinker of bottle after bottle of Dr. Nut, virgin and lute player, writer-down of maledictions against contemporary society (in Big Chief writing tablets), owner of an erratic pyloric valve that gives him ""bloat,"" wearer of desert boots, tweeds, and a green hunting cap with flaps. He's huge and obese, he lives with his widowed dipso mother in a ramshackle New Orleans half-house. Fastidious slob, rhetorical wreck in excellsis, Ignatius was once a grad student—but the trauma of a ride on a Greyhound Scenicruiser to Baton Rouge for a teaching-job interview has sworn him off work ever since. Mother Reilly, however, backs him into another try at employment. And his first job is at a hopeless clothing factory, Levy Pants, where the bookkeeper is senile (""Am I retired yet?"" she every so often asks no one in particular) and where the black factory workers use the machines for home sewing, since no one actually buys Levy Pants. Shocked, Ignatius organizes a ""Crusade for Moorish Dignity"" to better the black workers' plight—and that's the end of that job. Next he's a hot-dog vendor, and then events take an indescribable spiraling turn involving pornographic pictures, a libel suit against Levy Pants, an old Bronx girlfriend of Ignatius', a woeful undercover cop, and a sleazy bar. (Here we meet grandly funny Burma Jones, an unwilling black janitor and sidewalk shill: ""Hey! All you peoples draggin along here. Stop and come stick your ass on a Night of Joy stool. . . . Night of Joy got genuine color peoples workin below the minimal wage. Whoa! Guarantee plantation atmosphere, got cotton growin right on the stage right in front your eyeball, got a civil right worker gettin his ass beat up between show. Hey!"") The novel can hardly contain burstingly funny Ignatius—and the mix of high and low comedy is almost stroboscopic: brilliant, relentless, delicious, perhaps even classic.

Unfortunately, this is all we'll have of Toole's talent; he committed suicide in 1969, age 32, leaving only this astounding book.

Pub Date: May 1, 1980

ISBN: 0-8071-0657-7

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Louisiana State Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

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This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

THINGS FALL APART

Written with quiet dignity that builds to a climax of tragic force, this book about the dissolution of an African tribe, its traditions, and values, represents a welcome departure from the familiar "Me, white brother" genre.

Written by a Nigerian African trained in missionary schools, this novel tells quietly the story of a brave man, Okonkwo, whose life has absolute validity in terms of his culture, and who exercises his prerogative as a warrior, father, and husband with unflinching single mindedness. But into the complex Nigerian village filters the teachings of strangers, teachings so alien to the tribe, that resistance is impossible. One must distinguish a force to be able to oppose it, and to most, the talk of Christian salvation is no more than the babbling of incoherent children. Still, with his guns and persistence, the white man, amoeba-like, gradually absorbs the native culture and in despair, Okonkwo, unable to withstand the corrosion of what he, alone, understands to be the life force of his people, hangs himself. In the formlessness of the dying culture, it is the missionary who takes note of the event, reminding himself to give Okonkwo's gesture a line or two in his work, The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger.

This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

Pub Date: Jan. 23, 1958

ISBN: 0385474547

Page Count: 207

Publisher: McDowell, Obolensky

Review Posted Online: April 23, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1958

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THE SECRET HISTORY

The Brat Pack meets The Bacchae in this precious, way-too-long, and utterly unsuspenseful town-and-gown murder tale. A bunch of ever-so-mandarin college kids in a small Vermont school are the eager epigones of an aloof classics professor, and in their exclusivity and snobbishness and eagerness to please their teacher, they are moved to try to enact Dionysian frenzies in the woods. During the only one that actually comes off, a local farmer happens upon them—and they kill him. But the death isn't ruled a murder—and might never have been if one of the gang—a cadging sybarite named Bunny Corcoran—hadn't shown signs of cracking under the secret's weight. And so he too is dispatched. The narrator, a blank-slate Californian named Richard Pepen chronicles the coverup. But if you're thinking remorse-drama, conscience masque, or even semi-trashy who'll-break-first? page-turner, forget it: This is a straight gee-whiz, first-to-have-ever-noticed college novel—"Hampden College, as a body, was always strangely prone to hysteria. Whether from isolation, malice, or simple boredom, people there were far more credulous and excitable than educated people are generally thought to be, and this hermetic, overheated atmosphere made it a thriving black petri dish of melodrama and distortion." First-novelist Tartt goes muzzy when she has to describe human confrontations (the murder, or sex, or even the ping-ponging of fear), and is much more comfortable in transcribing aimless dorm-room paranoia or the TV shows that the malefactors anesthetize themselves with as fate ticks down. By telegraphing the murders, Tartt wants us to be continually horrified at these kids—while inviting us to semi-enjoy their manneristic fetishes and refined tastes. This ersatz-Fitzgerald mix of moralizing and mirror-looking (Jay McInerney shook and poured the shaker first) is very 80's—and in Tartt's strenuous version already seems dated, formulaic. Les Nerds du Mal—and about as deep (if not nearly as involving) as a TV movie.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 1992

ISBN: 1400031702

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1992

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