It is one of the funniest, laugh-out-loud books ever written. It is right up there with Hunter S. Thompson's classic Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas. It is one of the great literary endeavors, and if you haven't read A Confederacy of Dunces
yet, you need to go pick up a copy right now. Butterfly in the Typewriter talks about the strange and gifted writer of that book: John Kennedy Toole. It covers his life from boyhood to his death by suicide.
That's what makes the tale so troubling: how could someone so profoundly funny, witty and gifted ever get to the point where he'd take his own life?
This book attempts to answer that terrible question, and while no one will ever know what really happened except for the one person who is no longer here, it does shed some revealing light on who Toole was. He liked to dance, was very bright, didn't date, and had a father with an unspecified mental illness and a doting mother. We find out that the writer began the book in 1963 while stationed in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where he taught English to Spanish-speaking natives while in the armed forces.
He completed the book in a year, sent it to high-powered editor Robert Gottlieb at Simon and Schuster and thus began his descent into madness. Though Gottlieb encouraged the effort, he didn't publish the book. The back-and-forth correspondence between editor and writer would ultimately have devastating effects on Toole. For some reason, he refused to send the manuscript anywhere else. He sunk into a bottomless depression and finally committed suicide by inhaling carbon monoxide from a car motor.
His mother would subsequently get the book published posthumously, and it
would be hailed as one of the first comedic novels ever written and ultimately win the Novel Prize. This is a sad story about an astonishing writer who could never see past his own typewriter.