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A Fan's Notes Paperback – August 12, 1988
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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.
Mr. Exley is a very good writer . . . there's a lot of wit and bravado in this book, but it's more painful than funny. -- The Nation
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Further recommendations based on Exley's great book: "Notes of a Baseball Dreamer," by Robert Mayer and "Wait Till Next Year," by Doris Kearns Goodwin.
Fred Exley's "A Fan's Notes" is a good example of that.
One day, rooting around in the bookstore, I came across Jonathan Yardley's effusive Misfit: The Strange Life of Frederick Exley, and thought, "Exley? Who dat?" Odd, I thought, that there would be an author deserving of such expansive praise, yet of whom I had never heard. I thought I knew everything!
So I went over to the E's and, quickly ascertaining that Exley's reputation rested on this one book (there were two dud sequels), bought it.
What can I say? By this point I've read it -- I think -- 19 times. It helped me do a lot of growing up, and got me through a pretty rough time.
And the lessons it contains! That you can spend your entire life an alcoholic wastrel flopped on the couch, yet if you can pull it all together and put your heart on the page you can get into the Modern Library. That fame is a disease. That putting on a tie and giving things the ol' college try can be in many ways a sickness. That redemption is possible and that suffering and humiliation can lead to wisdom.
The kind of reaction I've had to Exley's book is a reaction I've only had for two or three books in my life. And it's strange: I've never drunk, I deplore football, and I've never been in a mental institution; yet when I read "A Fan's Notes" it's like my future self writing back to me from a wiser, sadder time, warning me about the vanity of earthly achievements and the ambiguity of the good life.
The back cover features a quote to the effect that this is the best American novel since "A Great Gatsby." Heck, it blows that one out of the water. I for one have never seen Exley's powers of characterization matched anywhere: Mr. Blue, his father, Bumpy, the Counselor, etc. Outstrips even Dickens, in my judgment.
This man could write like an angel. After "Moby Dick" and "The Brothers Karamazov," easily my favorite book.