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A Fan's Notes by Frederick Exley

A Fan's Notes (1968)

by Frederick Exley

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I read this book a long time ago but was recently reminded of it. It's a fine example of autobiographical fiction, or "fictional memoir" as the book is subtitled. I read it during a period when I was reading a lot of that sort of thing. Supposedly Exley never decided whether it was actually a novel or not. I haven't read Exley's books other but I've heard they are not so great. Better to be remembered for one excellent book, though, than be forgotten for a whole slew of mediocre ones. ( )
  S.D. | Apr 4, 2014 |
This is one of my favorite novels, in part because of the solid prose, in part because of the dark humor, and in part because of the protagonist's jaded, outsider view. There's also a lot about drinking and football, but you don't have to embrace either (especially to the degree the main character does) to find this a full, rich experience. A little cynicism helps, though, but then I honestly think it always does. ( )
  phredfrancis | Feb 8, 2014 |
This is probably the most unusual of several semi-autobiographical alcoholic memoirs I’ve read, though it wouldn’t seem so at first glance. Exley’s writing style is conversational and the stories he tells are for the most part plausible and humorous. And yet…

With surprising aplomb, Exley begins the book with an account of his habit of getting totally drunk and making an ass of himself at a sports bar during New York Giants games. He tells of being laughed at by the bartender and fellow patrons with full self-awareness and no embarrassment. Pretty soon he reveals his repeated stints at mental hospitals, also without a hint of shame, resentment or regret. Exley doesn’t seem to be in denial of his alcoholism – and very likely clinical depression – but neither does he seem proud of it. He doesn’t wallow like, say, Charles Bukowski. I want to say he sounds distant, but that’s not quite right. He’s mostly unconcerned and a little amused. It’s the same with his drinking: he never seems to worry about it, though it’s clear that he knows he has a problem (he attends AA meetings while in the hospital, but he spends his time there sneering at the participants with two other patients).

Exley’s character comes across as a drunk Ignatius J. Reilly, a self-proclaimed genius living off his mother’s generosity while holding her in contempt. Unlike Reilly, Exley is often aware what an absurd figure he is. A couple of times he claims that he’s turned his back on mainstream life in protest of the emptiness of the American Dream, but his hunger for fame belies his stance.

Then there’s the structure of the novel – or rather, its lack of one. Exley’s tales jump forward onto the future and fall back into the past without much justification. One minute we’re hearing about his obsession with New York Giants halfback Frank Gifford, the next Exley’s back in the mental hospital (for the second time? third?), or back in college at USC with Gifford. Exley’s fixation with the football player is supposed to be the theme that binds the whole book together, but it only appears sporadically, though there is a moving realization of Gifford’s meaning to the author towards the end of the book. This revelation – which there’s no point in discussing, since it won’t make sense out of context – seems to be the climax, but then the book once again goes off into another tangent, diffusing its impact. It doesn’t matter, though, because Exley is so entertaining.

Not surprisingly, Exley’s life was a horrible mess. Critic James Woods starts a review of Richard Yates’s biography with this anecdote: “[Exley] stumbled an hour late into the grim vinyl restaurant where we were to meet, and called me David. He had ‘been on a bender, David’, he explained, and wasn’t good for much, least of all being interviewed. His skin was florid, his nose pitted like an old orange skin, and he had the withered but pot-bellied shape – a gourd on a stick – of the heavy drinker who has lost interest in food. After 15 minutes I turned my tape recorder off: Exley was incoherent, surely the greatest insult a writer could do to himself.” Exley would go on to write two other autobiographical novels in the same vein, but they’ve largely been forgotten. ( )
  giovannigf | Aug 13, 2012 |
Possibly the funniest book ever written. We're not only talking tragically funny, but literally laugh-out-loud hilarious, too. Along with High Fidelity I'd consider this one of the greatest insights into the male mind ever published. ( )
1 vote eswnr | Dec 1, 2008 |
A madman who achieves some important realizations--great moment: his hostility towards Frank Gifford at the USC game ( )
  tzelman | Feb 16, 2008 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0679720766, Paperback)

Frederick Exley recounts his life as the son of a hero-worshipped high school athlete who is doomed to be a spectator not only of sports, but of life. From irresponsible drifter, to dreamer of impossible dreams, to drunkard, to frequent patient at an insane asylum, Exley carried baggage from his childhood through much of his adult life, never feeling he could escape the dark cloud of expectation that hung over him. When Frank Gifford, former New York Giants backfield star, is injured, Exley is jolted into painful realizations about his life, and a confession.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:11:10 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Mr. Exley, a schoolteacher in a dismal rural New York town, finds pleasure in rooting for the Giants and his own survival in modern American society

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