cover image I, John Kennedy Toole

I, John Kennedy Toole

Kent Carroll and Jodee Blanco. Pegasus, $25.95 (256p) ISBN 978-1-64313-193-1

This boisterous fictional take on the life and career of author John Kennedy Toole (1937–1969) from Carroll, a publishing veteran, and Blanco (Please Stop Laughing at Me, a memoir) is a bit of a mixed bag. The authors do a good job depicting the family life of only child Toole in New Orleans, in particular the tension between the sensitive, gifted Toole and his overbearing mother, Thelma, who ensured the publication of her son’s masterpiece, A Confederacy of Dunces, after his suicide. Simon & Schuster editor Robert Gottlieb, who rejected Dunces (because it “isn’t really about anything”), is fairly portrayed, though references to the 1968 novel Superworm, a highly touted but now forgotten Gottlieb acquisition, suggest his editorial judgment wasn’t always perfect. Book industry insiders will enjoy the account of how Carroll, then an editor at Grove Press, negotiated the paperback rights for Dunces with LSU, netting an instant bestseller after the book won the Pulitzer in 1981. Less satisfying is an undeveloped subplot involving a fictional reporter seeking to write about Toole. The authors also indulge in unnecessary historical scene setting (“in August of 1963, as Beatlemania continued to entrance the country, President Kennedy and the First Lady mourned the death of an infant son”). This love letter to Toole fans offers plenty of insights into the tragic literary figure. (May)