Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Toole's

I understand from learned friends that winning a Pulitzer prize requires more than talent. It takes a champion, and a great deal of luck. Winning posthumously magnifies the difficulty. Winning 12 years after your death is unheard of.

Forty one years ago this weekend, a young unpublished writer, overcome by migraines, depression and a liquid diet decided that Biloxi, Mississippi was as good a place as any to end it all. I was in Biloxi at the time, fighting the battle of Keesler AFB, and can't say I would disagree.

His mother Thelma, ten years later, found a smeared carbon copy of her son's unpublished novel in a drawer. Only her determination, and badgering Walker Percy to read her son's novel, Mr. Percy's unexpected understanding of the inherent worth of the work, and push to have it published, led to john Kennedy Toole's "A Confederacy of Dunces", eventual status as an American classic.

For this we thank a mother's love and what a piece of work she was. At best narcissistic, at worst wildly eccentric, she had a brief career appearing on afternoon and late night television shows, regaling anyone who would listen, with stories of her now famous son. It is said she never told the same story twice.

After appearing on Tom Snyder's Tomorrow Show, she returned to her hotel room to watch the program. She told interviewers " that she would love to meet the woman on the show. She seemed so nice."

Snyder invited her back on the show, suggesting he would provide drinks and snacks. " Only Champagne Tom, she replied, "I'm not just someone you can drag in off the streets."

Eventually, the real Ken Toole became unknowable. His mother's hagiography obliterated most of the real man behind the words.

If somehow you haven't read it, please do. Pour a drink, pretend you are in New Orleans, and let the story take over.

Ken where ever you are, thank you.



Jg. for FatScribe said...

Toad ... done and done. thanks for the suggestion. i'm all about literary suggestions, sir.

ADG said... it last year and loved every word-again

James said...

I first read it in the late 80s, thanks for the reminder that it may be time to read it again.

Mrs. Blandings said...

Just saw a copy in LA and was wondering where mine is. Putting it back on the bedside table.

Toad said...

I have no idea how many copies of this book I have purchased over the years. I always tend to say to someone, you have got to read this, while handing it to them.

If all the copies I have given away ever come home, I'll need more shelves.

DAM said...

Incredible. All NOLA biases aside, it's one of the funniest and well developed fiction characters of all time.

I've heard numerous rumors of it being turned into a movie, most recently with Will Farrell reading the part of Ignatius. Nothing has transpired though, heard anything?

Dumbwit Tellher said...

I must read. Toad (& James) thanks for the great tip, I am now very intrigued. Thelma sounds worthy of writing a book about. ~ ( :

preppyplayer said...

Love a good book suggestion and especially anything associated with my favorite city. And I agree, I want to know more about Mom now!

Pink Benny said...

Thank you for this story. It is a great one. By the way.....I too was at Keelser the same year. Wow.....has it really been that long?