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Misfit: The Strange Life of Frederick Exley Paperback – April 28, 2001


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. (April 28, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0742511596
  • ISBN-13: 978-0742511590
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.9 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,021,811 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Exley, best known for his 1968 cult classic, A Fan's Notes, was indeed a misfit. He managed to sponge off his family and friends successfully throughout his life, believing it was beneath him to earn a living by conventional means. Yardley, the book critic for the Washington Post, demonstrates that Exley's great interest in life was himself and that the three novels he wrote were all strongly autobiographical. Despite his self-absorbed existence, liberally drenched in alcohol, Exley managed to win the support of those closest to him and produce a work of enduring popularity. In this exceptionally written work, Yardley treats Exley's life with candor yet without excuses. Those who have enjoyed A Fan's Notes will find this biography essential reading. Recommended for all libraries.?Ronald Ratliff, Chapman H.S. Lib., Kan.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Frederick Exley, author of the unforgettable novel A Fan's Notes, lived a sad, often pathetic life, and Washington Post book critic Yardley details its awful grimness. Exley was a man-child, a full-time alcoholic never able to sustain relationships or even hold a workaday job--and yet, he wrote one great book and two not very good ones. He had one subject--himself--and when he'd finished with it, he simply drank harder. Though Yardley never met Exley, his rave review of A Fan's Notes prompted numerous late-night phone calls from the drunken author. Exley's short, unhappy life wouldn't support a traditional biography, and Yardley's mix of reporting, reminiscing, and reflecting works just fine. He draws no dramatic conclusions but muses thoughtfully on Exley's many contradictions: "He wrote a great book about not being famous precisely because he hoped it would make him famous, as in small measure it did." A sad but beguiling and peculiarly American story about a man who could write much better than he could live. Bill Ott --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Elkhart on July 24, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Jonathan Yardley's book isn't a great one, but having stumbled upon "A Fan's Notes" like a hungry man at a banquet, "Misfit" was that last after-dinner drink I just couldn't refuse. Yardley helps us decifer the hazy border between fact and fiction, and ponders the enigma of how a loser like Exley could write a novel of such penetrating power. For those who finish "A Fan's Notes" wishing for more, this short bio is probably preferable to Exley's unsuccessful later works.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Justin M. Martin on February 10, 2005
Format: Hardcover
exley managed to write, amidst the tumultuous and chaotic uncertainty of his own life, one legendary and immortal book, which everyone who cares about modern american literature must explore. yardley, here, gives us a portrait of the man, who must have been among the most exasperating creatures ever to walk the earth. yet his goodness and talent shine through, and i can't say that i wouldn't have been one of the willing multitude sucked into his web. if you hold 'a fan's notes' sacred, as i do, this is a necessary bookend.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Mark F. Fogarty on November 4, 1999
Format: Hardcover
I'm divided on "Misfit." I'm relieved that the book isn't an 800 page hagiography, relentless detailing every awful event in Exley's life. What a candidate he would be for that kind of treatment, apparently! Yet in abandoning traditional biographic approaches like chronicling dates and places and keeping it freeform, Yardley goes up against some awesome competition for chronicling Exley's life: Exley himself, in A Fan's Notes, Pages from a Cold Island, and Last Notes from Home. I enjoyed this book but it seemed a little breezy, an homage to the elusive Exley rather than any definitive tackling of his "strange" life. A Fan's Notes still rules!
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Pat Padua on August 14, 1997
Format: Hardcover
I find Yardley's -Washington Post- columns and book reviews entertaining, even when I don't agree with them; but -Misfit- suffers from something I don't find in his newspaper work, much less in Exley: numbers. Thus, themes are three-fold, Exley's marriages failed for these two reasons, these two contrasting incidents demonstrate first, this, second, that. This doesn't make Misfit a bad book, just too often a schematic one, unfortunate especially considering the rich, tangential schemelessness that was his subject's wont.Yardley faced what seems a real dilemma for a biographer: how to portray a subject known for autobiographical work? To parallell Ex's real life with his not always corresponding literary life, and to fill the numerous gaps, is how. But I'm not sure how someone unfamiliar with Exley would find it; excerpts from the oeuvre are revealing enough, but by my fan's assessment one needs to be immersed in Exley's voice for some time before his magic begins to rub off. I'm not sure Misfit accomplishes this, though as a fan I was more than happy to learn what was behind the literary mask.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 1, 1997
Format: Hardcover
Any fan of Exley's A Fan's Notes will be disappointed in this book. Exley spoke informally to so many people for so many years, but few of those words seem to remembered by anyone. There is too much speculation as to Exley's sex life that adds nothing to our understanding of this marvelous writer. Instead we get the standard biographer's suppositions that just hang there without justification. That people loved Exley is obvious. That he was self-destructive has been documented by his writing. Yardley apparently had a good idea to write about Exley, but a good idea and a publisher's contract is a flimsy excuse for the appearance of this book
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 5, 1998
Format: Hardcover
Yardley has done the impossible - his vivid account of the forces that shaped Exley's sad life are fascinating. Yardley has captured the very essence of Watertown, New York - a town 350 miles north of New York City where the winters are long and cold, employment opportunities are limited, and geographic isolation encourages the cult status of small town high school heroes. As a native of Watertown, Exley's writing always struck a very personal note with me - But Yardley succeeds in translating the many sad themes of the North Country into a very readable thesis.
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7 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Bill Chaisson on September 7, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Mr. Yardley admits at the outset that he was, in a telephonic way, a friend of Exley's. This gives you the immediate expectation that you are going to get a kid-gloves treatment of the late author. That expectation is borne out completely by this brief book.
In _The Culture of Narcissism_ Christopher Lasch used _A Fan's Notes_ as Exhibit A in the development of a narcissistic culture in late 20th century America. Lasch defined a narcissist as someone who has no real self, but instead cobbles one together based on the continually and desperately solicited approval of others. This project of manufacturing a self is all-consuming and leaves the narcissist with little energy to direct toward paying attention to the existence of other people. In _A Fan's Notes_ Fred Exley attempts to construct a self that is "not-Frank Gifford"; he is a nobody. That he was able to get this down on paper in a coherent form was the achievement of his lifetime and he deserved all the recognition he got, but of course the recognition merely fed his narcissism.
Yardley mentions Exley's famous monologues (given in person and over the phone) many times and says only that they consisted of disjointed stories of people that Exley knew and interacted with. He hints, but never states, that these narratives were more real to him than his own life. Yardley also mentions the negative review by Alfred Kazin of _Pages from A Cold Island_, the second Exley book; Kazin nailed Exley for living his life solely for the purpose of having something to write about. That is, Kazin outed Exley as a narcissist. Yardley completely misses this dimension of the Exley character and therefore his "analysis" of the man goes nowhere.
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