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More Connections With That Small Town Boy

Last week’s blog post was about John Kennedy Toole and the nonfiction book currently airing on WRBH called BUTTERFLY IN THE TYPEWRITER, written by Cory McLauchlin and read (with great respect and grace) by Peter Spera.  In that post, I commented on how many people in New Orleans and beyond feel connected in some way to the book or to the story or the life of Mr. Toole.  Some of the connections are emotional, and others are tangible experiences or actual encounters with the writer, his family, or his friends.  I recounted some I knew about, and asked you, the reader, if there were any you wished to share.  Here are your responses:

Kathryn Paintin writes, “I’ve got a connection, I’ve got a connection!  My friend Jean Cranmer also took “elocution” lessons from Mrs. Toole, and she too has vague memories of glimpsing Kenny and his father wandering about the house.  She can still recite some of the ridiculous “perms” Mrs. Toole had her learn.  Not bad for a little girl from Chickasaw, Alabama, huh?  Literary connections!”

Dorothy Henriques, writing from California, said:

“When I worked at Dominican College there were tales all over about John Kennedy’s days there on the faculty, and my dentist’s wife (whose name I can’t remember now) was his close friend right before his suicide. She helped in her husband’s dental practice and one day I spoke to her briefly about the dead author. That’s my several oblique degrees of separation both with being a friend of Jan Villarrubia (his mom’s student) and my dentist’s wife, his friend. When his book was so celebrated I guess we all looked for ways to know more of him and his lost genius. Sadness in the small town we call home, I guess.”

Then I asked Peter Spera, the volunteer who read the book for us on the air, about his impressions and how he felt about the subject matter while he was recording the book.  Here is his thoughtful answer:

“At first it seems surprising that the book (A CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES) won the Pulitzer prize, because it seems as if no one but a New Orleanian would “get” these oddballs and quirky characters from the book–it all comes across as much too local and unbelievable unless you live here and you know that people like that actually exist in the Quarter and in some of the old neighborhoods.  But as I read the biography, and saw that most of the characters weren’t from his imagination but were based on real life “characters” he knew quite well, I realized that there is a universality to the book that caught fire with the audience.  How many superstitious little Italian ladies like Santa Battaglia are there in the world?  Plenty on the west bank of New Orleans, sure, but also in New York, in Chicago, in New Jersey.  Same thing with Ignatius’ family, his impatience with his mother, the way he feels so put upon and misunderstood–we’ve been on both sides of that story, as children and also as parents.  Ignatius’ dissatisfaction with his jobs (at the Levy pants factory and as a Lucky Dog vendor), his inability to see his own faults and how he contributes to his own failures, his steadfast belief in his superiority, his insecurity combined with his large ego…don’t we all know a person like that?  What’s amazing to me is that the publishers who passed on the manuscript had a hard time seeing the “point” of the story, and thought no one would possibly understand it.  Instead, we ALL understood it.”

The last segment of BUTTERFLY IN THE TYPEWRITER airs tomorrow (Monday, April 8th)  and features a Writers’ Forum interview taped several months ago with the author, Cory McLauchlin.  It’s an intriguing and fitting closing with additional insights into the writing of the book.  Tune in at 9 am and again at 9 pm to hear it, on WRBH, 88.3 FM: Reading Fine Print.

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