Beyond Tragic Irony: The Life and Death of a Literary Enigma

 

By Cory MacLauchlin

Review by Emily Wojcik
May 28, 2012

Literary suicides hold a special place in our collective imagination, especially when they contain a healthy dose of irony. The story of John Kennedy Toole, author of the posthumously Pulitzer Prize-winning A Confederacy of Dunces, is a particularly intriguing case, as Cory MacLauchlin demonstrates in his new biography, Butterfly in the Typewriter: The Short, Tragic Life of John Kennedy Toole and the Remarkable Story of A Confederacy of Dunces. Not nearly prolific enough to have amassed a serious archive, and something of an enigma even to those who knew him best, Toole has remained a figure trapped in apocryphal cliché. His novel represented the culmination of a lifetime of thwarted literary genius, real and imagined, and his failed efforts at publication—following a lengthy and ultimately disappointing correspondence with Simon and Schuster editor Robert Gottlieb—ended in Toole’s suicide at the age of 31. Continue reading