Gottlieb on Toole after Fifty Years

In Robert Gottlieb’s recently published memoir Avid Reader he briefly talks about the fraught relationship he had with Ken Toole.



So in barely two pages devoted to Toole and in light of the critical and commercial status that Dunces has achieved worldwide, Gottlieb still dismisses Toole as sophomoric! Even with the benefit of the interim 50 years, Gottlieb never offers a more detailed substantive rationale beyond reiterating some intellectually lazy and vague self-justificatory post hoc thoughts. Gottlieb’s virtue-signaling is palpable in his deciding not to sue Thelma — gee, that was so morally superior of him. Reading Gottlieb’s memoir, I too haven’t changed my mind about him:

Gottlieb’s dilly dallying was a function of his calcified urbane smugness. Despite his ostensible sophistication, he was philosophically ill-suited to be arbiter of both literary merit and marketability — therein lies the rub. Had he definitively chosen one or other as the imperative rather than make each of these domains somehow conversable or “reconcilable,” then Gottlieb would pretty much be absolved of professional ineptitude.

Here are my extended thoughts on Gottlieb from my review of Cory MacLauchlin‘s superb bio Butterfly in the Typewriter: The Tragic Life of John Kennedy Toole and the Remarkable Story of A Confederacy of Dunces.