- Paperback: 385 pages
- Publisher: Vintage; First Edition Thus edition (August 12, 1988)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0679720766
- ISBN-13: 978-0679720768
- Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.7 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 95 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #233,438 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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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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For those of us who lived in 'Watertown', wherever your city might be, Exley's portraits of its residents and traditions and gathering places are, truly, breath-taking. Time stood still: I could find these places; I knew the 'salesman' types and whatever; the bars and restaurants were still there. And I contributed my heart out to that city, helping in a small way for it to be the 'Home of the Tenth Mountain Division', long after Exley's wonderful work.
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.
As an ex-pat upstate New Yorker, I was drawn in by the perfect depiction of Watertown, New York, hometown of the novel's protagonist and its author, both of them named Frederick Exley. Not many writers get small towns like this right, but Exley does, from the look of the bars to the local preoccupation with high school sports. Appealing too is the novel's shape, in which the careers of two USC alums are set side by side: Frank Gifford, the Giants quarterback, and Exley, a failed writer who does a couple of stints in the state asylum.
By mid-novel, however, I had to make a vow to myself to finish. Some of the problem came from an unlucky juxtaposition. Having just finished a reread of Plath's "The Bell Jar," whose bitter revelations of fifties misogyny are not at all dated, I had a tough time reading about Exley's casual sixties contempt, when it's not indifference or outright cruelty, for any woman unfortunate enough to cross his path. What really got me, however, was the cast of minor characters, whose various peccadilloes were funny---until they weren't, the way a joke is funny the first time but tiresome the second time you hear it. An entire chapter devoted to "Who? Who? Who is Mr. Blue?" about a pathetic siding salesman led me to . . . . . .
take a second vow to finish. It's true that there are some lyrical passages in this book about being a fan, as opposed to one who plays the game. Gifford becomes an iconic athlete, Exley becomes a struggling writer whose life is soaked in booze. It's a sad novel, but how many times have you read this story?
This minor book is not Cheever, not Roth, not Updike, not Bellow. Like it says, it's a fan's notes.
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.