News and notes from Fredericksburg's entertainment scene
Germanna teacher explores author’s tragic life in new book
BY CRAIG SCHULIN
John Kennedy Toole took his own life in Biloxi, Miss., in 1969 when he ran a hose from the end of his car’s exhaust pipe into its cabin.
It’s likely he would have faded into obscurity had a peculiar series of events not occurred.
You see, 11 years after his death a book he had written was finally published. To say it was a success would be something of an understatement, putting it in the category of the many novels the label of “New York Times Bestseller” is applied to, only to be forgotten in a month.
“A Confederacy of Dunces,” described as a “gargantuan tumultuous human tragicomedy” became a Pultizer Prize winner. And its dead author would become something of a mystery to millions of fans.
Oddly, the attempt to delve into Toole’s life, to find out more of what sort of person he was, what made him tick, has been lacking.
“There really has not been a quality biography of John Kennedy Toole,” said Germanna Community College English teacher Cory MacLauchlin.
MacLauchlin has spent the last few years on an effort to correct that.
In his recently published “Butterfly in the Typewriter: The Brilliant and Tragic Life of John Kennedy Toole,” MacLauchlin offers an in-depth look at who Toole was—his personality, his quirks, his wit and his genius.
“Toole was really drawn to people. He was someone that would walk into a room, observe someone and in a few minutes could impersonate them, even mimic their facial expressions,” said MacLauchlin.
For MacLauchlin the path that would ultimately lead to “Butterfly” began about 10 years ago when he visited New Orleans for a conference.
“I absorbed the city,” he said.
Future trips would include taking groups of his Hampton Roads Academy students there to help clean up in some of the worst damaged areas after Katrina.
The connection to Toole is that he was born and raised in New Orleans.
The city’s character, its unique absurdities, irony, and tainted morals and ethics would all be important to Toole. And in “Confederacy,” Toole accomplished what no other artist had done. As a recent documentary about the author pointed out, he “cracked the code and revealed the very essence of what it means to be” in the city.
MacLauchlin’s book takes you on journey through Toole’s life, his education, his work as a teacher, his time in the army and his drive to become a published writer.
After reading the biography, Fredericksburg art dealer Joel Fletcher found that he “felt like I knew Ken [Toole] better than before.”
A very good endorsement given Fletcher was by one of Toole’s close friends, and himself the author of “Ken and Thelma,” a memoir detailing Fletcher’s relationship with the Tooles.
MacLauchlin’s book has received mixed reviews elsewhere with some pointing out a lack of “Confederacy” being there.
“I wasn’t focusing on the book,” said MacLauchlin.
Toole was more than the bright, yet troubled author who writes a masterpiece, then commits suicide after slowly sliding into deep depression and paranoia.
MacLauchlin looks for and finds Toole’s personality. He shows us someone who was fun to be around. Someone with close friends and family whom he “touched with his tenderness and humor.
In so doing MacLauchlin has succeeded in progressing the story of Toole and his work.
What: Book signing with Cory MacLauchlin
Where: Griffin Bookshop, 723 Caroline St., Fredericksburg
When: Saturday, 2–4 p.m.
Info: 540/899-8041; corymaclauchlin.com
Craig Schulin: 540/374-5403