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Butterfly in the Typewriter: The Tragic Life of John Kennedy Toole and the Remarkable Story of A Confederacy of Dunces
     

Butterfly in the Typewriter: The Tragic Life of John Kennedy Toole and the Remarkable Story of A Confederacy of Dunces

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by Cory MacLauchlin
 

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The saga of John Kennedy Toole is one of the greatest stories of American literary history. After writing A Confederacy of Dunces, Toole corresponded with Robert Gottlieb of Simon & Schuster for two years. Exhausted from Gottlieb’s suggested revisions, Toole declared the publication of the manuscript hopeless and stored it in a box. Years later he

Overview

The saga of John Kennedy Toole is one of the greatest stories of American literary history. After writing A Confederacy of Dunces, Toole corresponded with Robert Gottlieb of Simon & Schuster for two years. Exhausted from Gottlieb’s suggested revisions, Toole declared the publication of the manuscript hopeless and stored it in a box. Years later he suffered a mental breakdown, took a two-month journey across the United States, and finally committed suicide on an inconspicuous road outside of Biloxi. Following the funeral, Toole’s mother discovered the manuscript. After many rejections, she cornered Walker Percy, who found it a brilliant novel and spearheaded its publication. In 1981, twelve years after the author’s death, A Confederacy of Dunces won the Pulitzer Prize.

In Butterfly in the Typewriter, Cory MacLauchlin draws on scores of new interviews with friends, family, and colleagues as well as full access to the extensive Toole archive at Tulane University, capturing his upbringing in New Orleans, his years in New York City, his frenzy of writing in Puerto Rico, his return to his beloved city, and his descent into paranoia and depression.

 

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In 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.
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
From the Publisher

PW's Best Summer Reads 2012, 6/8/12

Kirkus Reviews, 3/15/12
“[MacLauchlin] cleanly lays out the brief life of his subject and his work's unlikely afterlife…A valuable biography”

BookPage, April Issue
“[A] highly readable biography…It does an impressive job filling in the gaps and helping readers better understand this complex writer.”
 
Yahoo! Shine, 3/18/12
“Author Cory MacLauchlin provides a well-documented, highly objective, step-by-step track of Toole's too-short life.”
 
San Diego Union Tribune, 3/30/12
“A complete telling of the sad but triumphant story…The life that unfolds here is full of contrasts: laughter and pain, popularity and isolation, failure and success.”
 
LitReactor.com, 4/11
“In addition to being the most comprehensive and accurate biography about the man so far, it's also a gripping read”
 
Blurt-Online, 4/19/12
“An impressive new biography…MacLauchlin makes Toole come alive by providing illuminating glimpses into his life and clearing up much of the fog surrounding his death.”
 

Publishers Weekly, 4/23/12
“[A] thoughtful and thorough biography…MacLauchlin does an admirable job distinguishing facts from speculation.”
 

New City, 5/1/12
Butterfly in the Typewriter is as close to unraveling the enigma of the often-mysterious John Kennedy Toole as we are ever likely to read, and his story makes for an engrossing read.”
 
Shepherd Express, 5/2/12
A fascinating account of Toole's short, intense life…For anyone carrying more than a passing interest in A Confederacy of Dunces, this bio is, of course, a must-read.”
 
Cleveland Plain Dealer, 5/11/12
“For anybody who has faced rejection (and who hasn't?), this book contains a lifetime worth of wisdom.”
 
Buffalo News, 5/6/12
“This is a sad story well-told”
 
Deep South Magazine,6/1/12
“MacLauchlin has created a book that is literary, erudite and accessible all at the same time. He has married scholarship with storytelling, which is not an easy feat.”
 
Atlanta Journal Constitution, 5/29/12

Kirkus Reviews
A brief study of the too-brief life of John Kennedy Toole (1937–1969), author of the classic comic novel A Confederacy of Dunces. Odd as it might be to say about a novelist who was unpublished in his lifetime and who killed himself at 31, Toole led something of a charmed life. The New Orleans native was an academic success, skipping two grades as a child and earning top marks studying literature at Tulane and Columbia. Later, his students at Hunter College and Dominican College would recall him as a charming and engaging teacher. An easy Army stint gave him plenty of free time, and in 1963 he began writing A Confederacy of Dunces, a brilliant picaresque novel set in his hometown. He hit the literary jackpot when the manuscript caught the admiring attention of editor Robert Gottlieb, who shepherded Catch-22 and other classics in the 1960s. But Gottlieb's demands for revisions demoralized Toole, and after giving up on the book he slipped into a mental decline that concluded in 1969 on a Mississippi roadside, where he asphyxiated himself on his car's exhaust fumes. MacLauchlin (English/Germanna Community Coll.) delivers this story in prose that never rises above workmanlike, but he cleanly lays out the brief life of his subject and his work's unlikely afterlife: Thanks to his mother's dogged efforts, Confederacy found an advocate in novelist Walker Percy, and the book became a sensation when it was published in 1980, winning the Pulitzer Prize. MacLauchlin is careful not to stray far from the documented record, and he criticizes a previous biography, Ignatius Rising (2001), for indulging in speculation about Toole's alcoholism and sexual orientation. But apart from identifying friends and colleagues who were likely models for Confederacy's characters, MacLauchlin engages little with the novel itself, which diminishes a sense of Toole's accomplishment and his ongoing influence on comic novelists today. A valuable biography, albeit lacking in Confederacy's lively spirit.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780306821042
Publisher:
Da Capo Press
Publication date:
03/27/2012
Sold by:
Hachette Digital, Inc.
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
352
Sales rank:
777,741
File size:
2 MB

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

PW’s Best Summer Reads 2012, 6/8/12

Kirkus Reviews, 3/15/12
“[MacLauchlin] cleanly lays out the brief life of his subject and his work’s unlikely afterlife…A valuable biography”

BookPage, April Issue“[A] highly readable biography…It does an impressive job filling in the gaps and helping readers better understand this complex writer.” Yahoo! Shine, 3/18/12
“Author Cory MacLauchlin provides a well-documented, highly objective, step-by-step track of Toole's too-short life.” San Diego Union Tribune, 3/30/12
“A complete telling of the sad but triumphant story…The life that unfolds here is full of contrasts: laughter and pain, popularity and isolation, failure and success.” LitReactor.com, 4/11“In addition to being the most comprehensive and accurate biography about the man so far, it's also a gripping read”
 Blurt-Online, 4/19/12
“An impressive new biography…MacLauchlin makes Toole come alive by providing illuminating glimpses into his life and clearing up much of the fog surrounding his death.” Publishers Weekly, 4/23/12
“[A] thoughtful and thorough biography…MacLauchlin does an admirable job distinguishing facts from speculation.” New City, 5/1/12Butterfly in the Typewriter is as close to unraveling the enigma of the often-mysterious John Kennedy Toole as we are ever likely to read, and his story makes for an engrossing read.” Shepherd Express, 5/2/12
A fascinating account of Toole's short, intense life…For anyone carrying more than a passing interest in A Confederacy of Dunces, this bio is, of course, a must-read.” Cleveland Plain Dealer, 5/11/12“For anybody who has faced rejection (and who hasn’t?), this book contains a lifetime worth of wisdom.” Buffalo News, 5/6/12
“This is a sad story well-told” Deep South Magazine,6/1/12“MacLauchlin has created a book that is literary, erudite and accessible all at the same time. He has married scholarship with storytelling, which is not an easy feat.” Atlanta Journal Constitution, 5/29/12“Cory MacLauchlin’s fair-minded biography unpacks one myth at a time…Along with its portrait of a complicated, conflicted and flawed young writer, Butterfly in the Typewriter provides a comprehensive look at Toole’s childhood, college years, his army posting in Puerto Rico and his lifelong love affair with New Orleans.” Winnipeg Free Press, 5/27/12“A balanced and sensitive biography of Toole, is very much the stuff of movies”

Washington Times, 6/8/12“[An] exhaustive biography…Required reading for anyone interested in this enigmatic literary figure; indeed, in Southern literature in general.”

VanityFair.com, 7/25/12“It’s an exhaustively researched chronicle of the remarkable life of John Kennedy O’Toole…MacLauchlin’s story…is heartbreaking…I implore you to read the novel and A Butterfly in the Typewriter now, to meet the man and Ignatius yourself before it’s too late.”

Library Journal, 8/03/12“The reader experiences the life and death of Toole, as well as the amazing journey that the manuscript of A Confederacy of Dunces took long after its author was gone….[MacLauchlin] shows a connection to and understanding of Toole that translates to readers, making them feel as if they, too, have entered Toole’s mind and are with him through his ups and downs…MacLauchlin has a deep understanding of Toole without making any unfounded assumptions…Recommended to all literary biography collections and necessary for all those studying the prominent cultural figures of New Orleans.”

The Advocate
, 8/14/12
“MacLauchlin does this tragic story justice, producing a gripping biography worth reading."
VanityFair.com, 7/25/12
“It’s an exhaustively researched chronicle of the remarkable life of John Kennedy O’Toole…MacLauchlin’s story…is heartbreaking…I implore you to read the novel and A Butterfly in the Typewriter now, to meet the man and Ignatius yourself before it’s too late.”

Meet the Author

Cory MacLauchlin is a producer, biographer, and member of the English Faculty at Germanna Community College. He lives in northern Virginia with his wife and son. 

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Butterfly in the Typewriter: The Short, Tragic Life of John Kennedy Toole 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
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