[Work: A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole, 1980]
Peopling Picaresque:

On the Well-drawn Characters of John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces

 

Introduction:

A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole sketch by M.R.P. - characters, picaresque

Sketch by M.R.P.

The publishing history of John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces is a morose one to recount. In 1969, at the age of 31—after struggling for years with anxiety, paranoia, and depression, which were in turn catalyzed by the successive rejections of his works for publication by notable figures in the publishing business—Toole ran a garden hose from the exhaust of his car into an unventilated cabin, killing himself. Eleven years after his death, in 1980, Toole’s novel was published after his mother shared it with writer and enthusiastic reader Walker Percy. In time, it became an international success, and A Confederacy of Dunces posthumously won John Kennedy Toole the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1981.

I mention all of this not merely to set the scene and sow sadness, but to establish the proper context for today’s topic: the development and embodiment of unique characters in Toole’s novel. A Confederacy of Dunces is a work of picaresque fiction, meaning that it follows the wayward exploits of a singular or iconoclastic protagonist as they attempt to navigate a variety of societal strata and scenarios. Toole was himself a singular person: a gifted scholar, a witty presence, and a troubled mind; and as a result, his protagonist is perfectly drawn for his project, while all of the other characters that Toole created are equally vibrant.

Continue reading

[Work: A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole, 1980]
Peopling Picaresque:

On the Well-drawn Characters of John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces

was last modified: September 1st, 2016 by Daniel Podgorski

[Work: Cat’s Cradle, Kurt Vonnegut, 1963]
Laughing at the Worst:

The Equal-parts-comedic-and-nihilistic Critique of Inhumane Research in Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle

 

Introduction:

Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut is a member of a class of novels which could arguably not have surfaced without the Cold War as their context. It is brimming with paranoia, and it manages to frame the greatest of tragedies as the subtlest and most inevitable of truths. I’m not entirely sure what to call work like this: perhaps something like ‘bureaucratic sci-fi.’ But whatever you call it, what it provides is a stinging criticism of a society that knowingly teeters on the brink of destruction, and which does so with a smile. Where there is something to smile about, reasons Vonnegut, there is something to laugh about. Cat’s CradleCat's Cradle - Kurt Vonnegut - arms race satire, despite having one of the bleakest and most nihilistic plots of any of Kurt Vonnegut’s novels, manages to be one of his most hopeful, charming, and humorous works.

Cat’s Cradle holds nothing sacred, and—like much of Vonnegut’s work—its message may be summed up succinctly by a sigh that comes through a grin. It takes to task humans that are indifferent to human suffering; technological advancements that are made without humanistic aims; and spiritual as well as governmental institutions which fail to provide happiness to their participants. It is pithy, clever, and confusing, and it just might be my favorite Kurt Vonnegut novel.

Continue reading

[Work: Cat’s Cradle, Kurt Vonnegut, 1963]
Laughing at the Worst:

The Equal-parts-comedic-and-nihilistic Critique of Inhumane Research in Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle

was last modified: January 22nd, 2017 by Daniel Podgorski

[Work: Pudd’nhead Wilson, Mark Twain, 1894]
Nature, Nurture, Nightmare:

On Mark Twain’s Other Ironic Masterpiece, Pudd’nhead Wilson

 

Introduction:

Portrait of Mark Twain by James Carroll Beckwith - Pudd'nhead Wiilson - irony, satire

Portrait of Mark Twain by James Carroll Beckwith

Well, last week’s Tuesday Tome article set out to make a light recommendation of Breakfast on Pluto, then got side-tracked with a conversation about identity that led into a purely analytical Thursday Theater post on The Crying Game. I guess that when I found myself reading part of a dissertation on Irish art while writing the article, that should have been a good clue that the article was not going to end up light. With that failure to keep things light so fresh in my mind, I’m really (truly) going to make this one short, sweet, and enticing.

The book I want to convince you to read is a lesser-known work by an immensely famous author: Pudd’nhead Wilson by Mark TwainPudd'nhead Wilson - Mark Twain. This book has a little bit of everything, from ironic comedy to tragic twists to courtroom drama, and all of it is tied together by a core of biting satire as strong as Twain is known for. Not convinced? Let me tell you a bit more.

Continue reading

[Work: Pudd’nhead Wilson, Mark Twain, 1894]
Nature, Nurture, Nightmare:

On Mark Twain’s Other Ironic Masterpiece, Pudd’nhead Wilson

was last modified: November 30th, 2016 by Daniel Podgorski

[Work: Breakfast on Pluto, Patrick McCabe, 1998]
Tradition Troubled:

Boisterous Fun, Visceral Bloodshed, and ‘Irishness’ in Patrick McCabe’s Breakfast on Pluto

 

Patrick McCabe - Breakfast on PlutoOne of the goals of this site is to make sure that the style of the articles in each series (with the possible exception of Your Friday Phil) encompasses a range containing everything from advice lists to simple reviews to deeper analyses. The Tuesday Tome series is one which has spent the past couple of weeks dealing in dense, analytical material, so it is due for a simple review. In fact, this week’s article will take the form of a straightforward recommendation. And the book which I would like to recommend is Breakfast on Pluto, a 1998 novel by Patrick McCabeBreakfast on Pluto - Patrick McCabe, one of the two books for which McCabe has been shortlisted for the Booker Prize.

This is both the strangest and second-most recent book which I have covered in the series so far. Breakfast on Pluto‘s strangeness results from its recentness, as it presents a combination of a raw depiction of violence in Ireland during the Troubles with a wistful, campy narrative voice provided by transgender character Patrick “Pussy” Braden. If the concept of a male human being with typically feminine character traits and a typically feminine fashion sense is an affront to your taste, then this book is not for you. But if you are a reader who might be interested in a work that challenges genre (and gender) conventions in order to tell a violent and uniquely Irish history in a new way, then read on.

Continue reading

[Work: Breakfast on Pluto, Patrick McCabe, 1998]
Tradition Troubled:

Boisterous Fun, Visceral Bloodshed, and ‘Irishness’ in Patrick McCabe’s Breakfast on Pluto

was last modified: January 2nd, 2016 by Daniel Podgorski

[Work: Catch-22, Joseph Heller, 1961]
Rocks and Hard Places Galore:

The Bureaucratic Appropriation of War in Joseph Heller’s Catch-22

 

What do you get when you mix the surreal, atmospheric absurdism of Kafka’s best known works with the darkly comedic anti-war satire of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five? I would say that you get something very close to a book published about 40 years after Kafka’s death, and about 10 years before the publication of Vonnegut’s novel: Catch-22 by Joseph HellerCatch-22 - Joseph Heller - bureaucracy.

I would make it no secret that Catch-22 is one of my personal favorite novels. It is a novel that represents a masterclass in the modernist and postmodernist technique of melding high culture and low culture, as well as tragedy and comedy. This article explores the dominant philosophy and masterful presentation of Heller’s most successful novel.

The nature of this article is such that it requires spoiling basic plot details of Catch-22, so you should only continue reading after this paragraph if you either do not mind spoilers or have already read the book.

Continue reading

[Work: Catch-22, Joseph Heller, 1961]
Rocks and Hard Places Galore:

The Bureaucratic Appropriation of War in Joseph Heller’s Catch-22

was last modified: November 6th, 2016 by Daniel Podgorski