Butterfly in the Typewriter

I want to give a plug to the superb biography on JK Toole written by Cory MacLauchlin. He brilliantly marshals the Toole story into a plausible and coherent whole given that much of what we know was severely modulated through Thelma Toole and who along with Robert Gottlieb tend to be cast (for different reasons) as the villains of the tragic real-life drama behind “Confederacy.” MacLauchlin does not fall into that trap – he offers a very fair and balanced assessment of the positive role these two did play, whatever their failings. MacLauchlin is also restrained in making bald claims ascribing a repressed homosexuality to Toole. Though this may well be true, there is little positive evidence for it and a wealth of hearsay against it. At all times MacLauchlin meticulously assesses the more sordid/sensationalist claims that have been made over the years and finds them to be wanting. Regarding the “Confederacy” characters, as MacLauchlin points out, one is somewhat puzzled by the tacit over-sensitivity by some concerning the Jewish characters in the book, namely Myrna Minkoff  and the Levys. It is through Minkoff and Gus Levy that a significant redressing of justice does occur – the former nabbing Ignatius just in time and the latter helping Burma Jones, someone at the very bottom of the social totem pole. Though Mrs. Levy is without doubt the most obnoxious character in the book there is nothing remotely anti-Semitic about these characters. The insight into a writer’s mind (much like Kafka or Musil that is so tightly woven into the writing) is absolutely fascinating and is sensitively and elegantly articulated by MacLauchlin. All would-be writers need to read this book to get a sense of what a profound talent is (Toole) and as an exercise in the art of biography, appreciate MacLauchlin’s good taste and connoisseurship.