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Exley Paperback – September 1, 2011

3.4 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Clarke follows up his acclaimed An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England with a less gripping exploration of truth and fiction, set in Watertown, N.Y., during the Iraq war. Miller, a precocious nine-year-old eighth grader, is convinced that when his parents split up, his father joined the army, was shipped to Iraq, and is now recovering from combat injuries in a VA hospital. The father-son dynamic has roots in, strangely enough, Frederick Exley's cult book, A Fan's Notes, which Miller's father is obsessed with, leading Miller to fantasize that, if he can locate Exley, his father will be cured. Miller's story is augmented by the notes of his therapist, whose professionalism is first compromised by his attraction to Miller's mother and soon by his amazingly unethical (and sometimes morbidly funny) antics--breaking into Miller's house, playing along to a perverse degree with Miller's interest in locating Exley--that eventually obliterate the already tenuous line between reality and imagination. Clarke's a deft satirist, but the narrative's structural intricacies are more confounding than anything, resulting in a work that's fitfully engaging but slow, wonderfully mysterious but increasingly confusing.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

In his latest brain-teasing raid on literary history, following the much-acclaimed An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England (2007), Clarke riffs on a cult classic, A Fan’s Notes: A Fictional Memoir (1968), by Frederick Exley. For Tom, a lost soul living in Exley’s hometown, Watertown, New York, this misfit’s ballad of fury and alienation is a sacred text. Tom’s precocious nine-year-old son, Miller, is caught between his floundering father and his lawyer mother, who works at Fort Drum. Then his father abruptly joins the army, goes to Iraq, and ends up in the VA hospital in a coma. Or does he? Miller is beyond unreliable as a narrator, and so is his dangerously crazy shrink, who not only lusts after Miller’s mom, but also encourages his young patient’s impossible search through Watertown’s underworld for Exley, whom Miller believes can save his dad. If only this clever and tender novel didn’t get stuck in a vortex of aberrations. There are hilarious moments; Miller is endearing; and Clarke’s take on the cruel toll of the Iraq War is profound. --Donna Seaman --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Algonquin Books; Reprint edition (September 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9781616200848
  • ISBN-13: 978-1616200848
  • ASIN: 1616200847
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 0.9 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,148,900 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Meg Sumner TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 9, 2010
Format: Hardcover
After you finish reading Exley, by Brock Clarke, you may need to take a few moments to catch your breath. You may not sleep well, and that's certainly not because of anything horrific or scary in the book. This book, quite simply, messes with your mind.

First, the characters are wildly created and completely unpredictable. It starts with Miller, or M-, who is a child prodigy on a quest to find his father who left the family suddenly and without explanation. He's a weird little kid, but likable, and you can't help but feel sympathy for him as he misses his dad. The only explanation he can find is that his father must have left for Iraq (they live in an army base town), and this explanation doesn't sit well with his mother. She arranges for him to meet with a psychiatrist to discuss Miller's `wild imagination'. Miller and the doctor form a tentative relationship, with Miller's explanations sounding more reasonable than anyone else's.

The key to all of this, to separate it from any number of books about dysfunctional families, is Exley. Frederick Exley, is the author of A Fan's Notes, the favorite book of Miller's father. His father's so tied to Exley's books that when he gets a phone call on 9/11 to tell him to turn on the television, he can't be bothered. He's too busy re-reading the book. The book becomes Miller's only connection to his dad. He carries on his father's obsession and turns to Exley (or at least anything even remotely related to Exley or his writing) to bring him back. With book in hand, he searches all over Watertown to find a connection and an explanation. In between searching, he teaches his father's English class at the Junior College, meets a mysterious young woman who may have known his father, and visits the VA hospital searching for clues.
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Hi. Probably the biggest fan in the world of A Fan's Notes. Really. That father's obsession with it seems lukewarm compared to mine. Hah! You think I'm going to tell you that I've read Exley's other two books as well as Yardley's "Misfit"? Hah. Sophomore stuff. Actually, I've read every author, seen every film, looked up every word, and Google Earth'd every location so much as mentioned in the book!

And I'm sure I'm in welcome company here since I'm skeptical anybody would be reading this book who hadn't read and adored A Fan's Notes.

Anyhow, if that's you, I can tell you this: this book has NOTHING to offer you. Zilch. Clarke makes up a story of some kid with mental problems and blah blah blah. Actually, it would have been a lot better if it had merely been an honest explanation of why Clarke liked the book so much and how it affected him. The only effect Clarke's book has is really just to get you in the mood for reading A Fan's notes again, not further chapters of Clarke's book.

Several quotes from A Fan's Notes are sprinkled throughout, and those are of course good. But in terms of "added value" -- the depth and insight Clarke adds above that -- there's nothing to speak of.
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I understand why this book garnered some negative reviews. If you're looking for a straightforward tale, told by a reliable narrator, you won't find it here. But if you want a departure from conventional storytelling (without any of the quirks of overly "post-modern" techniques), then you might find this book worth the ride. The novel is about a boy who can't accept his reality -- that his parents have separated and he's lost touch with his father. He is now convinced that his father went off to Iraq, but got injured and is lying comatose in a VA hospital in Watertown, New York -- the setting of the novel A Fan's Notes. The father was a big fan of Exley's book and modeled his life after Exley and the boy is convinced that if he brings Exley to his father, he'll be able to save his father's life. But the boy's mother doesn't believe him, and she brings the boy to a psychiatrist to help him stop fantasizing and creating what she believes are elaborate ruses to convince her he's telling the truth. The psychiatrist is no ordinary psychiatrist. We learn that he's a social misfit, and we discover right off that something's not quite right with him because he has a crash on the boy's mother and initially his only interest in treating the boy (whose name is Miller, but 2ho is mostly referred to as just M. in imitation of Exley's style) seems to stem from his desire to interact with her. Things get more and more complicated from there.

The chapters switch back and forth between M's point of view and case study notes taken by the psychiatrist. As each chapter unravels, the story functions like a series of Russian nesting dolls, where you assume each time you've gotten to the bottom of things, but you can never be sure.
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"Exley" is a unique, touching and sad story about the love between a father and a son, and between a sensitive soul and an author. It also explores the amazing possibilities of the 9-year old imagination. Some reviewers suggest that this story cannot be enjoyed without a familiarity with Frederick Exley's "A Fan's Notes", or even that you should read F.E.'s book instead. "Exley" absolutely stands on its own as a great read. That being said, I read the two books simultaneously and highly recommend doing that as a unique literary adventure.
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