Ignatius RisingThe Life of John Kennedy Toole
by René Pol Nevils and Deborah George Hardy
LSU Press, 234 pp., $24.95
The story of John Kennedy ("Ken") Toole, when briefly summarized, is a remarkable one. Struggling young author attempts to get his novel, A Confederacy of Dunces, published and is shunned by multiple publishers. Despairing at his failure, author commits suicide. Determined mother approaches venerable author Walker Percy and asks him to champion the book. He does, the book gets published, and wins the 1981 Pulitzer Prize. Ignatius Rising peels back the layers of this mysterious and very private man's life to reveal a narcissistic, overbearing, evil shrew of a mother in Thelma Toole, who cultivated a completely inappropriate relationship with her son and pushed for his book's publication not to honor his memory, but to provide a larger stage for her grating self-aggrandizement. The conclusions drawn from this honest, lovingly written biography are that Ken Toole was a victim of his own ego, for which his textbook stage mother was -- at least in part -- responsible. If she had not relied upon her "genius" son to be her reason for living, he might have had enough self-esteem to bear the slings and arrows of the publishing world, not to mention life itself.