We live in a age when fame is the ultimate bar of success. John Kennedy Toole – how many people have heard of him? Maybe some. Maybe. He wrote A Confederacy of Dunces. The novel went on to win a Pulitzer. Highly reviewed. A classic. The author. He committed suicide ten years before the book ever saw print. 32. He was just thirty two when in 1968 he decided to cash it in. Written a huge manuscript dog eared and typed and smudged. Sitting down in New Orleans with his mother. Doing nothing. Waiting to be discovered. Eating rejection letters. Waiting to be discovered. Not many people know what that’s like. You spend your best moments. Your heart and soul. Give your best years to this mound of paper filling your desk and then you begin funneling it out to the world at large and it comes back. No one gives a damn.
So you can imagine old John. I personally never knew him but I do know him. Any writer does. You have one horror as a writer. Comes to you at night in your sleep. That you will die in obscurity. That what you have to say will find no voice among your fellow man. You write because you are driven. You write because you have no other way to make sense of your existence publish so you will leave footprints. That no one will see your passage is the knife at your throat as the sands flow. Time. It starts to run you down right after you finish your book. How long will it take to get it in print. Will it ever get in print. Will it stay in print.Will the manuscript ever escape the box, the basement, the attic. Immortality. A flag that you have passed.
And so you press on. Send it out. Send it out some more. And then it comes back just as fast. No one wants it. No one gives a damn that the talent you’ve been given. God palmed to you. Means nothing in the world. Take John. Just written his opus. His reason for living, reason for being. And there it sat. He must have known. You always know in some part of you when you have written your gift to the world. Usually it’s the first novel. Sometimes the second. But you know. This was the one that I came together for. I know it’s good. No one else gives a damn. So you send it out some more. Then again. Then again. Again. No one cares. Worse. No one wants it.
John must have papered his room with rejection letters. He must have decided there was no way to pass that wall. The wall of indifference. The world did not want his testament. He sat in his mothers house with his thousand page manuscript. Typed. Carboned. Smudged. In New Orleans. 1968. Hot. Twilight. Sitting. Obscurity floating in with the night and then it overwhelms. Drowns you like some miasma. I’m never going to beat this thing. It will win. Not me. I will be crushed underfoot by indifference. No one cares. The writer unrealized. Just thirty two. And so he ends it. Snuffs out his life. The wall of indifference falling on him.
Ten years later his mother takes his manuscript to an editor. A genius discovered. Dead genius. Obscure. A Pulitzer. A classic. John Kennedy Toole. You think he didn’t know. Didn’t know that in death his novel might have a chance. Or was it just some black horror coming over him. Swirling him up. The horror of the artist damned to obscurity. To the night.
Maybe he got the last laugh. Maybe.
Rocket Man is due out in January