The Battered Manuscript
By Bill Fountain
Posted November 6, 2020, 3:30 pm
John had always felt somewhat out of place around others his entire life; however, this didn't seem to hinder his apparent erudition. He was an excellent student, and now was spending his twenties using his masters in English to teach others at universities.
His real dream was to become a published writer. He thought about this day in and day out and was willing to put it in the work to get there. He had finished his first novel when he was only 16 just after graduating high school. He sent it into a prestigious publishing company but was distraught to learn his masterpiece was turned down.
Even though he was a respected and charming professor, he still lived at home with his over-protective mother. She displayed narcissistic behaviors, always wanting to be a superstar since childhood. Ever since she gave birth to baby John, he was her new project and if she couldn't be a star, then he would be one. And if he can't be a star, then merely taking care of him will give her life significance.
There was no satisfying his mother, and this was hard for John growing up. Everything he did seemed insufficient to her, and yet she wanted him around more than anything. When he presented his novel to her, she took notice only to the fact that it was rejected, deeming her son's project must certainly be garbage. John agreed and began working on another book.
John had finished his second novel and was beginning a third. He sent in the novel to the prestigious company only to once again have his work be turned down. He entered an existential crisis, and dreaded the thought of continuing to write, only to have nobody read his work.
One day, he quit his job, withdrew $1500, left his hometown in New Orleans and drove west to California without telling anybody. He shocked his parents and his students, who all loved him greatly. But John was on a journey to find himself- any reason at all worth living. "All I want to do is be a writer. I have thoughts that I don't know how to express other than through my stories. What's the point if nobody is ever going to even read it? I just want to be a writer. God, please let me be a writer. Why am I such a piece of shit? I'm spending days on end writing words that nobody cares to read. What's the fucking point?"
He ends up driving for 66 days across the country. He winds up in a town in Mississippi, pulls over to the side of the road, and finished the decision that he had already made months ago. John pops his trunk, takes out a green garden hose, attaches one end to the tailpipe and lets the other end seep through the driver-door window into the cabin.
He begins writing a letter to his parents- his mom specifically. John lets her know of how she sabotaged him and sucked his will to live. All she cared about was having him near her- she did not care about what truly made him happy. She didn't believe in his writing career and drove him to believe the same. He ends his life at age 31.
11 years after his suicide, his mother is going through an old dresser and finds the manuscript from John's first novel. She decides that her life purpose is to get her son's work published. She sends the battered manuscript with typos and written notes to 12 different publishers, and all of them turn it down.
She continues to imagine the book published, and imagines the feeling of her son's work finally being put into the world, and she does not quit imagining. She is passionate about getting this done and will do what it takes to get it there. After receiving word about an executive who will be attending an event nearby, she literally puts the manuscript into his hands and practically begs him to give the novel a shot.
He agrees that the novel is absolute brilliance, and it is published under the title "A Confederacy of Dunces". It is widely perceived as hilarious, intelligent, and all-around literary genius. It receives the 1981 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and his subsequent novel also becomes published; truly John Kennedy Toole had reached the success he had always dreamed for. Unfortunately, he was not alive to enjoy it.
John wanted to be a writer but didn't know he had always been a writer. His battle with himself had proven nil, seemingly lacking the self-love and confidence to continue in life. "If the best publisher doesn't see my work as genius, I must be a failure."
John Kennedy Toole always had the tool he was looking for, but he had a problem of needing external reassurance in order to feel motivated. When he didn't receive sufficient praise, he decided suicide was the best answer.
Searching desperately for success, John didn't know that all he had to do was love himself and the success would come naturally. He drove to California looking for something that was already in his home all along.