“Santa Bettaglia tasted a spoonful of the potato salad, cleaned the spoon with her tongue and placed the spoon neatly on a paper napkin next to the plate of salad… ‘They gunna love that. Nobody makes a good potatis salad like Santa.’… After Santa had left, Mrs. Reilly filled her glass with bourbon and added a jigger of Seven-up. She picked up the spoon, tasted the potato salad, and cleaning the spoon with her lips, put it back on the paper napkin.” (A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole)
These two old women licking a potato salad spoon in order to clean it is one of the lesser graphic scenes in this book but, for some reason, whenever I think of A Confederacy of Dunces I shudder with delight/revulsion at the thought of that licked spoon sitting there so innocuously on the napkin. This book is simply full of details like this; small, slightly repulsive quirks that Toole unabashedly brings out in his characters.
Another simply delightful trick of the book is that the last scene changes the meaning of the book entirely. Somehow Toole uses his writing prowess to distract the reader from this point throughout the hilarious bulk of the text and then slaps you in the face with it in the last few sentences. I don’t know if i’ve ever read another book where the ending twists the whole reading of the text in this way before. (Sorry for being ambiguous, but to say more would rob you of its surprise)
I was lead to reading this book in strange, non consecutive steps. I remember hearing a long time ago the story of John Kennedy Toole, but never knowing which book or author the story was about. So I was, at some level, always trying to find which book went with that vaguely remembered story, and only found out the two went together after falling for the book. Toole committed suicide at a 32, without ever having seen his works published. His mother found his manuscripts and went to several publishers, none of whom would even read the text, thinking that any mother would believe her son’s work to be a masterpiece. She finally got a professor (Walker Percy) to read it and later publish it. Toole was posthumously awarded the pulitzer prize in 1981.
Beverage: Although I will rarely say it, I believe Ignatius’ beverage of choice would do well here – a cold beer.