Pulitzer

Awarded for a specific work.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Screenshot of To Kill a Mockingbird(an America...

Screenshot of To Kill a Mockingbird(an American movie issued in 1962) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Lee’s only novel, To Kill a Mockingbird (1961) has been read by more people than perhaps any other book our group has read previously (30 million copies sold), with the possible exception of Lolita.  Consequently, it is almost impossible to say something unique about the novel so I am going to address some of the less noted aspects of the book.

 

Mockingbird is not a perfect book and has its detractors.  Some of the less flattering commentary has been superficial criticism based on Lee’s use of the epithet, “nigger.”  Other critics have complained about the fact that one of the characters, a white woman, was attracted to a black man, then falsely accused him of rape.  Those kinds of reactions are to be expected when a novel of this caliber addresses issues such as race and class, and does so in a divisive, but insightful manner. (more…)

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A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

New Orleans: Statue of fictional character Ign...

New Orleans: Statue of fictional character Ignatius J. Reiley from the novel “A Confederacy of Dunces”, beneath the clock where the first scene of the novel finds him. Formerly the entrance of D. H. Holmes Department store, now a Hotel on Canal Street. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Typically, I do some research prior to writing one of these critiques, but this is the first time that I have had to consult a medical dictionary.  Toole’s main character, Ignatius J. Reilly, lives with his mother and is afflicted with a condition that causes his “pyloric valve” to open or close, depending on his level of emotional stress.  Although there is a pyloric sphincter muscle that opens and closes a valve that separates the stomach from the lower intestine, a cursory review of stomach ailments does not support the existence of the condition Ignatius suffers from.  This is a work of humorous “fiction” though, and unless you happen to be an expert in gastro-intestinal issues, you accept it as plausible – not that such acceptance is needed for a comedy.  As for the plausibility of the rest of A Confederacy of Dunces, well, that would depend on your familiarity with New Orleans and your sense of humor.  I haven’t visited the city for a number of years, but his narrative feels real when I read it, and it is very funny.Toole died in 1969 so his Big Easy is set long before Hurricane Katrina.  The absence of references to a catastrophic hurricane and mobile phones are a few things that make the story a little dated, but not by much and certainly not to the point where it interferes with our enjoyment of the story.  Nor are there any references to the Vietnam War, but some of the more paranoid characters worry about them “communiss” being everywhere, and the sexual revolution has begun.  Ignatius, however, is too repressed to participate in the revolution.  Consequently, Toole continuously places Ignatius in situations where his repression results in comic discomfort.  At one point, Ignatius meets “Dorian Greene” (p. 256 of my Grove Press edition) – a reference to The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (previously read by this book group) – who invites Ignatius to a party where he dances with another man and is eventually chased into the street by a group of violent lesbians.  (more…)