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Publishers WeeklyIn this thoughtful and thorough biography, MacLauchlin recounts the short and tragic life of John Kennedy Toole, author of A Confederacy of Dunces-a book cast aside by publishers during the author's life, but finally published and awarded the Pulitzer Prize after his suicide at 31-years-old. Born in New Orleans in 1937, Toole was the only son of a "pure" Creole mother and an Irish immigrant father, and was a precocious student growing up and at Tulane. MacLauchlin tracks Toole from his Cajun upbringing, to his graduate work at Columbia in New York City at a time when the likes of Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg were basking in "newfound literary fame," and to his being drafted and stationed in Puerto Rico as an English teacher in 1960, during which assignment his book began to take shape. Unfortunately, finding a publisher for the idiosyncratic comic novel proved difficult; Simon & Schuster editor Robert Gottleib took interest in Toole and his work, but remained unconvinced that publishing A Confederacy of Dunces was a tenable business move. Meanwhile, Toole's mental health rapidly deteriorated, a process abetted by his work on the novel. The final days of the young writer's life are the hardest to recreate, but MacLauchlin does an admirable job distinguishing facts from speculations as he recounts the events leading up to Toole's suicide on a lonesome Mississippi roadside.
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