Thursday, October 6, 2022

The Great Man Theory, by Teddy Wayne: Ignatius Reilly Lives!

I have no idea if Teddy Wayne had Ignatius Reilly - the pugnacious protagonist of the classic novel A Confederacy of Dunces - in mind as he penned his character Paul in his new novel The Great Man Theory. But if he did, he nailed it! Paul is a middle-aged, divorced dad, Brooklyn writer living with his mother who is constantly upset with the state of the world and beyond befuddled that the world doesn't appreciate his brilliance. 

But here's the surprise: Paul is a little bit all of us. Paul is sure social media is destroying society. Paul has trouble understanding why his passion projects -- in his case, long-form articles about really obscure subjects published in academic journals -- aren't more widely read and respected. But mostly, Paul can't understand how so many people in this supposedly enlightened country can go along with the machinations of the orange fiend in the White House. (Yes, it's 2018 or so, and the Cheeto-faced Shitgibbon is at the height of his manipulative powers.)

And now, Paul discovers his own mother -- he had to move in with her after he was denied tenure and then got demoted from his university teaching job -- is a fan of Colin Mackey, the blustery anchor on a nightly news show bearing no accidental resemblance to Sean Hannity and Fox News.

But Paul has a plan to solve all these problems. He's currently working on a book titled The Luddite's Manifesto that will set the set the world straight and vault him to cultural prominence and wealth beyond his wildest dreams. 

It's pretty laughable of course, but let's let Paul/Ignatius have his dream because despite all this, we somehow manage to feel for Paul, a little bit. He is losing touch with his 11-year-old daughter who he only gets to see on weekend (part of the reason for this is that he constantly explains the world to her in the most condescending terms, and she recognizes his life as sad). But he really does love her and really strives to be a good parent.

Eventually, as is inevitable, Paul hits rock bottom and has a moment of clarity. What is he really doing to help the declining state of society? What can he do? Can he do more?

There are few "plot twists" in this novel that make you go "huh?" But on the whole, this is a really fun read. Paul is exasperating for sure! But do you root for him? Sometimes it's hard to tell if you should. Paul, in addition to standing in as a modern-day Ignatius Reilly, is also the guy in the classic Onion article, "Area Man Accepts Burden Of Being Only Person On Earth Who Understands How World Actually Works." 

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