Category Archives: Humor

Review: “A Confederacy of Dunces” by John Kennedy Toole

Humor is at the heart of "A Confederacy of Dunces" as Ignatius J. Reilly rants about society, revealing himself as both clown and jester.
Humor is at the heart of “A Confederacy of Dunces” as Ignatius J. Reilly rants about society, revealing himself as both clown and jester.

“Good grief. Is this smut supposed to be comedy?” Ignatius demanded in the darkness. “I have not laughed once. My eyes can hardly believe this highly discolored garbage. That woman must be lashed until she drops. She is undermining our civilization. She is a Chinese Communist agent sent over to destroy us. Please! Someone with some decency get to the fuse box. Hundreds of people in this theater are being demoralized. If we’re all lucky, the Orpheum may have forgotten to pay its electrical bill.”

Ignatius J. Reilly is big in every sense of the world, an oversized bundle of misapplied learning and sloth, prone to screaming at movie theater screens, arguing with strangers and aggravating everyone he comes into contact with. As John Kennedy Toole’s novel begins, Ignatius is on the verge on being arrested for just being himself, an incident that sets into motion accidents, debt, workplace revolts, elderly romance, burlesque shows starring birds and a failed attempt to convince the armies of the world to lay down their arms in favor of what was once referred to as the love that dare not speak its name.

“A Confederacy of Dunces” ends up delivering something akin to a plot, but it’s structured as a series of scenes, generally involving Ignatius arriving somewhere, insulting everyone he encounters and having to flee to avoid arrest or violence. He’s an obnoxious character—perhaps the original man-child—and it’s easy to see how some readers could be overwhelmed by him, not wanting to spend several hundred pages in his presence. But Toole realizes his main character is a clown, and if you can laugh at him as well as with him, it’s enjoyable to spend time in Ignatius’ presence and see how he overreacts next.

The writing itself is very skilled, a mixture of Walt Kelly’s florid regional dialogue, and John Barth’s serious-sounding absurdity. Beyond Ignatius, the book introduces a solid range of characters, each with his or her own voice. There’s the bored, absentee owner of Levy Pants, the business where Ignatius is forced to work—and threatens to ruin—to pay off the damages caused by his mother’s drunken car wreck. There’s the owner, janitor and failed erotic performer from the “Night of Joy” a crummy night club that Ignatius ultimately brings to ruin. There’s his long-suffering mother, who picks up a new friend and boyfriend, both of whom advise her to send Ignatius to the insane asylum. Spending as much time with him as we do, we can’t be sure they’re wrong.

Capturing these characters, Toole’s book uses a variety of voices that writers today likely wouldn’t, everything from stylized African American vernacular to a stereotypical “fairy” of the period. At the same time, the characters behind these voices still succeed, maintaining their own bite and personality, arriving at something that’s much more than caricature.

Ignatius himself is the most cartoonish character in the bunch. He has a nasty tone for women and lipstick, and he’s not fully consistent either, acting squeamish throughout about sex but later showing an aptitude for lust and blackmail. Consistency isn’t necessarily the root of humor, though, and Toole is funny throughout, providing you can get past Ignatius’ voice—and his ceaseless, self-centered rage about the world. I laughed a lot reading this. By the end, when Ignatius started getting wound up again, I even looked forward to seeing where the rant would finish.

“You know, manacles and chains have function in modern life which their fevered inventors must never have considered in an earlier and simpler age. If I were a suburban developer, I would attach at least one set to the walls of every new yellow brick ranch style and Cape Cod split level. When the suburbanites grew tired of television and Ping-Pong or whatever they do in their little homes, they could chain one another up for a while. Everyone would love it. Wives would say, ‘My husband put me in chains last night. It was wonderful. Has your husband done that to you lately?’ And children would hurry eagerly home from school to their mothers who would be waiting to chain them. It would help the children to cultivate the imagination denied them by television and would appreciably cut down on the incidence of juvenile delinquency. When father came in from work, the whole family could grab him and chain him for being stupid enough to be working all day long to support them. Troublesome old relatives would be chained in the carport. Their hands would be released only once a month so they could sign over their Social Security checks. Manacles and chains could build a better life for all. I must give this some space in my notes and jottings.”

“Oh, my dear,” Dorian sighed. “Don’t you ever shut up?”

More “A Confederacy of Dunces” Quotes

“It was a neighborhood that had degenerated from Victorian to nothing in particular, a block that had moved into the twentieth century carelessly and uncaringly—and with very limited funds.”

“I would like very much to know what the Founding Fathers would say if they could see these children being debauched to further the cause of Clearasil. However, I always suspected that democracy would come to this.”

“Now listen, Darlene. Anybody can insult a tramp. These jerks wanna see a sweet, clean virgin get insulted and stripped. You gotta use your head for Chrissake, Darlene. You gotta be pure. I want you to be like a nice, refined girl who’s surprised when the bird starts grabbing at your clothes.”

[On Ignatius’ contemporary reading program] “I recommend Batman especially, for he tends to transcend the abysmal society in which he’s found himself. His morality is rather rigid, also. I rather respect Batman.”

Review: God Knows by Joseph Heller


A repetitive, demanding and thoroughly amazing novel from the creator of “Catch 22.” “God Knows” tells the story of the Biblical King David in his own voice, as the fabled Goliath-slayer remembers his life and its complication on his deathbed. As he nears the end, David can’t help but retrace his life in his mind, returning again and again to certain formative events: the murderous rage of the previous King, Saul, David’s still-steaming lust for wife Bathsheba and the rebellion and death of his son, Absalom.

It’s natural for David’s mind to retrace these formative moments, the ones that brought him to his throne and also delivered such heartbreak. But it can make for slow reading, especially at the beginning of the book, when David’s musings are untethered from the story that brought him to his current royal, debilitated state.

It’s only as the story builds that we move from his decline to his rise: playing the lyre for Saul, slaying Goliath, becoming a hero and then running from the king that sees him as a threat. We move through banditry, rebellion, the pains and pleasures of many wives, and the hard politics of managing a ruling coalition. There’s also his lust for Bathsheba, which leads David to send her husband to his death in battle, a sin that ends the communion he previously had with the Lord.

“Did I kill Uriah to avoid a scandal or because I already had settled in my soul that I wanted his wife?” he wonders. “God knows. For not only is the heart deceitful in all things, it is also desperately wicked. Even mine. This danger in being a king is that after a while you begin to believe you really are one.”

Heller’s David is a fully human creation, both sharp and sentimental, despairing and proud, always ready with a joke or a bit of vulgarity. See him reflect on his showdown with Goliath, “I knew I was good. I knew I was brash. I knew I was brave. And with Goliath that day, I knew that if I could get within twenty-five paces of the big son of a bitch, I could sling a stone the size of a pig’s knuckle down his throat with enough velocity to penetrate the back of his neck and kill him, and I also knew something else: I knew if I was wrong about that, I could turn and run like a motherfucker and dodge my way back up the hill to safety without much risk from anyone chasing me in all that armor.”

The action is centered in the Middle East in Biblical times, but David’s voice speaks outside the frame, referring to his statue by Michelangelo (he’s not a fan), telegraphs, the Babylonians and all the uneasy history to follow. He’s savvy and smart, a contrast to his son Solomon, who’s humorously portrayed here as an oaf who poaches all his best lines from David.

The title itself is a clever one. On one hand, it sums up the uncertainty of human lives–who knows why God does anything? But on the other, it outlines David’s real gripes with the Lord: the king refuses to speak to him anymore, put off forever by the death of his infant son with Bathsheba, who was killed by God as punishment for the adultery and murder that forged their relationship.

Heller does an amazing job veering from Mel Brooks-level humor to palpable pain and pathos, often on the same page. David is tired of living, but he’s not tired of reliving his life in his own head, wondering about the events that shaped him and planning revenge for the slights he’s endured. Tonally, the book reminded me of John Barth’s “The Sot-Weed Factor,” another irreverent take on a historic subject. “God Knows” has a world-class author committing himself to a singular voice all the way through a moving ending. It takes a while to grab you, but after a certain point it’s a pleasure just to follow along.

Review: Dog Duty by Bobby D. Lux

Dog Duty is a fun, but serious, dog noir romp by Bobby D. Lux.

An injury on the job ends up forcing a cop into retirement, but he finds it tough to adjust to the quiet life. Obsessed with his last case, he finds himself returning to his old patrol, brushing aside new friends for a chance at closure—and maybe revenge.

“I’ve been shot at,” he tells us near the start. “I’ve sniffed out bombs, drug paraphernalia, and crime scenes. I’ve chased killers and gang members in the rain. I’ve been punched and had my fur ripped out.”

As the last line hints, the noir core of “Dog Duty” is enhanced by the fact that its central figure is, well, a dog. Fritz is an alpha cop in the Grand City Police Department, but a run-in with a monstrous Rottweiler has left him with one lame leg and a hasty retirement party.

His old partner, Officer Hart, brings him back home to the suburbs, but Fritz can’t settle in so easily. Instead, he recruits his new backyard-mates—streetwise Ernie, a former stray, and dopey young Nipper—to trot down these mean streets in search of the dog who maimed him.

Written by Bobby D. Lux, the book offers a fun, imaginative look into the secret world of dogs. Fritz and his pals take us on a four-legged tour ranging from their cozy, confining backyard to secret dog speakeasies and high-rolling cat races.

The author does a great job capturing the world from a canine point of view, translating everything from doggie love to forbidden snacks to the rough business of discovering who’s top dog. “Only humans care about things like being fair and one-on-one and rules and you can’t do this or that,” an antagonist tells Fritz near the end, “but you got to remember that dogs ain’t like that…there’s just one rule I adhere to: I go home and you don’t.”

Lux is also serious about exploring the identity crisis sparked by Fritz’s forced retirement. Like many of his human counterparts, our dog has always defined himself by being a cop; he’s at a loss when the role is taken from him. Fritz’s reflections on the job convey a strong sense of pride and duty, but there’s arrogance as well as he dismisses others for not living up to his standard. His takeaway after filming a public-service announcement with the local police chief is revealing. “It took Chief Lennox six tries to get his speech right,” Fritz says. “I nailed the bark on the first take.”

Ultimately, Fritz has to resolve these complications before he can make headway in his old case—not to mention his new life. He’s a strong character: wounded, gruff, but self aware enough to change. While Fritz’s development is compelling over the course of the story, the book is at its best when he’s working with the rest of his scrappy ensemble, notably mutt Ernie, who enjoys the doggie pleasures in life and isn’t averse to the occasional breakout to pursue them. I had a lot of fun with the cast, although I do wish the strongest female character, Saucy, had gotten an earlier opportunity to roll with the rest of the gang.

Ultimately, “Dog Duty” isn’t going to win over the dog-show crowd (that bridge is burned), but it’s a great read. Lux has a lot of fun with the setting but plays it straight with the plot, even taking into account one questionable decision near the end by a human crook. (Hey, who said criminals were smart? Not Fritz.) In any case, the dogs run the show, and they’re a delight. I only hope the promised sequel becomes a reality.

New Book: “Dog Duty” by Bobby D. Lux

Available through Amazon, "Dog Duty" is a fun riff on a crime book, taking us along as former canine detective Fritz tries for revenge on the dog that drove him off the force.

FLYMF alum Bobby D. Lux has his debut novel out! Available through Amazon, “Dog Duty” is a fun riff on a crime book, taking us along as former canine detective Fritz tries for revenge on the dog that drove him off the force. Check out the Kindle edition at the link above; a print version will also be coming out soon for us fetishists.

Bobby was a longtime FLYMF contributor; he has a number of stories in FLYMF’s Greatest Hits. Bobby’s FLYMF work includes When The Camera Stopped Rolling, Mike Tyson Movie Reviews, O’Neill ‘Scopes’ An Early Career, Monkey Dance, Outrageous ClaimsIn Memorium, Adventures In Time Travel, The Worst Story Ever, Batman Begins By Superman, The Coreys, Tonto’s Shocking Discovery, Vegas Wedding, The Solution To America’s Problems, Superman Returns, The Pirates Of Swenxof, and “Sly” Nostalgia.